Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Intelligent Machines: tool, not threat

In "On Intelligence," Jeff Hawkins' focus on Machine Intelligence, a near-term, human-controlled tool as compared with Artificial Intelligence, a longer-term self-evolving entity that could dominate humanity is a nicely-defined accessible area of the near future.

His framing of the Intelligent Machine as a tool for extending human capability liberates the stalled Artificial Intelligence focus on the humanoid, Turing Test-passing form of created intelligence and frees the imagination to consider the possible uses of intelligent machines with non-human properties.

Hawkins affirms the difficulty of envisioning the specific applications of radical new technologies and suggests the technique of identifying the properties and capabilities of future intelligent machines such as speed (electrical pulses traveling a million times faster than neuronal impulses), capacity, breadth, pattern-recognition and sensory systems comprised of all naturally existing systems (including radar, sonar, echolocation, electrical field sensing, etc.) plus new senses natural to the digital substrate, and then envisioning uses from these properties.

Intelligent machines can be useful as a tool for extending human knowledge, understanding and predictive capability for phenomena where direct human perception is limited. Just two of these extremely important areas are highlighted here:

-First considering mathematics, physics and biotechnology, intelligent machines can potentially think in more dimensions than three or four, providing tremendous value not only in solving problems but in merely representing string theory, protein-folding and cell process phenomena.

-Second, considering scale, intelligent machines with orders of magnitude of greater depth and breadth of pattern-recognition could possibly model and predict weather, energy consumption, demographic shifts and animal migrations with the same facility that humans use to gauge the crowdedness of the road on the daily commute.

In Hawkins' view, intelligent machines are not threats and not mini-humanoids but very nice tools for increasing human knowledge and capability, a view which can only be lauded.