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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondLet's talk about whether computers can outperform humans in something so human as thinking. Let's start with the example of the chess. The first chess machine in the history was constructed by a guy called Wolfgang von Kempelen for Maria Theresa of Austria. He's also known as Farkas Kempelen. Now the machine that he constructed was called the Turk and it defeated lots and lots of chess players of the time. However, the Turk was actually not a chess machine. The Turk was a cleverly constructed mechanical device with a chess master hidden inside the machine, and he was operating the machine.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsNow the chess masters were replaced in the machine from time-to-time, but seemingly it was the same machine over many, many years, and it played and defeated lots of challengers including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. It was much later, in 1958, when one of the most prominent early AI researchers, Herbert Simon, announced that within 10 years, the world chess champion will be a computer. And he was wrong. So it did not happen. So it took four times longer than this happens for the first time. It is when, in 1997, the Deep Blue has defeated Gary Kasparov. This received a lot of media attention. What was much less popularised is that after this event, Gary Kasparov repeatedly defeated Deep Blue.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 secondsNow more recently in 2015, we had a new machine called AlphaGo, or Google DeepMind, and this machine was able to defeat the Go world champion, Lee Se-dol. Now what the significance of this is, is that Go is significantly more complex than chess. However, both of these are still in the well-structured of the realm. And although I do believe that for a while humans will come back and beat these machines, I do believe that eventually the computer will outperform the humans in these two games. However, just think about it, how much simpler these things are from what a brain surgeon does or from what a business executive does.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 secondsAnd this means that I'm really afraid of those approaches that attempt to reduce thinking to data processing. It just does not work. Just think about simple devices like a small translation machine which is usually quite good at translating words, but as soon as you want to translate a sentence, it most of the time does not make sense.

Human vs. Machine

In this video I tell a few stories of machines outperforming humans in areas that are supposedly uniquely human such as chess and go. I also show how this also happened the other way around i.e. humans defeating machines, and when this has not happened, that I expect that it will happen soon.

But I also say that I believe that in these areas machines will eventually be victorious. However, the reason is in the nature of these areas: they are well-structured (at least, they appear to be). In such areas data processing can potentially outperform thinking. I am not afraid of the smart machines outperforming humans, I am afraid of those who want to reduce thinking to data processing. Thinking is so much more than that. I heard a Google developer claiming that they had constructed a programme that understands the concept of the dog. He explained that he made the machine learn so many pictures of dogs that if you showed it a picture of a dog or one of a cat, it could recognise the previously unseen dog as a dog, while would say that the cat is a non-dog. I’ve asked if it can be happy (or angry, does not really matter) if a dog licks its face, if it can pet a dog, or get scared of a really aggressive dog. If not, it does not understand the concept of dog. The developer did not understand what I was getting at.

This reminded me of a story about John Lennon: Supposedly, when he was five, he was asked what he would like to be when he grew up. He said happy. They said he did not understand the question. He said they did not understand life.

Credit: Copper engaving of ‘The Turk’ by Karl Gottlieb von Windisch’s 1783 (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

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This video is from the free online course:

Understanding Information and Technology Today

University of Strathclyde