A spate of books that describe AI breakthroughs
are out, or due shortly.
Bill Joy, Sun Microsystems' chief scientist, who
wrote in Wired magazine about a future in which robots are the dominant form of
life on earth, has a book in preparation. Jeff Hawkins, cofounder of Handspring,
the PDA manufacturer, is working on a book about widespread AI; Tom Mitchell,
professor of AI at Carnegie Mellon University is about to present his vision of
AI pioneer and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil is
working on his book, "The Singularity Is Near" a sequel to his previous
best-seller, "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human
Intelligence" (see hotlink below).
Rodney Brooks is director of MIT's AI Lab; his
new book - "Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us " - promises that
machines will have emotions, desires, fears, loves and pride (see hotlink
These gurus clearly believe that AI is on the
brink of a major comeback. They're predicting that personal robotic servants,
computers that can program themselves, and robots that cost a fraction of a
human worker - all within the next 20 years.
An Israeli company Ai Research was recently
funded with $4m to create a new form of life with 'Virtual Children' using
technology that allows everyday language communication with computers.
San Francisco-based startup Emergent Minds is
applying for government funding in an attempt to build neural networks that can
learn and grow like living beings, with amazing commercial applications.
A recent RedHerring magazine article pooh-poohs
all this as hype. In this essay, Geoffrey James insists that AI is a
"technological backwater" and the business prospects simply don't add up. He
scoffs that AI has been coming since the '60s and the AI dreams - and business
opportunities - are likely to remain more science fiction than science fact.
But, the AI pundits continue to predict that
generalized AI will be achieved within 20 years. The brilliant and irrepressible
Ray Kurzweil debunks RedHerring eloquently with his own arguments. It will
always be easy to scoff at AI as long as there are tasks at which humans are
better, but the many derivatives of AI research are becoming increasingly vital
to our economy and civilization.
Virtually every industry extensively uses
intelligent algorithms, the trend now is that the "narrowness" of the
intelligence of AI systems is becoming less narrow, with many applications
beginning to combine multiple methodologies. "Strong AI" represents the
culmination of these ongoing and accelerating trends.
The Web site Longbets.org has published 11 bets
to sharpen long-term thinking on issues of social or scientific significance.
The biggest bet (so far): $10,000. Ray Kurzweil bets Mitchell Kapor, the founder
of Lotus Development, that a computer or 'machine intelligence' will pass the
Turing test (be able to successfully impersonate a human) by 2029.