Artificial Intelligence Isn't Nearly 'as Smart as 3-Year Olds.'

Is AI about to take over? Or does it struggle to be as smart as a toddler? 

Artificial Intelligence Isn't Nearly 'as Smart as 3-Year Olds.'

Why should AI scare us? Let’s compare natural vs. artificial intelligence, using Edge’s 2015 big question: What to think about machines that think?

1. Despite the AI fuss, “deep learning ... is conceptually shallow,” explains Seth Lloyd. “Deep” here means more interconnected "neural network" layers, not profound learning.

2. Alison Gopnik feels machines aren’t nearly “as smart as 3-year-olds.” While AI sometimes outwits Garry Kasparov, it needs millions of pictures (labeled by humans) to learn to recognize cats. Infants need a handful (amazing pattern detectors, + see what babies know, but scientists often ignore).

3. Biology has information-processing cells with hardware and software “vastly more complex than ... Intel's latest i7” chip, says Rolf Dobelli. Chips are faster, but the i7 does 4 things at a time; biology’s “processors” do thousands. Supercomputers ≈80k CPUs, brains ≈80 billion cells. 

4. Lawrence Krauss estimates a computer would need ~10 terrawats of power (≈all humanity’s power plants) to match what the human brain does with just 10 watts (=million million times less power, = 40 doublings, ~ 120 years).

5. Intelligence, and many mind-related terms, are “suitcase” words (Marvin Minsky). They pack jumbled ideas.

6. Intelligence must process information. But many things that process information aren’t deemed intelligent. Harry Collins says sieves, trees, calculators, and cats, do what they do, and process information, the way rivers do, ~basically “mechanistically.”

7. Information processing isn’t limited to minds. Inanimate objects routinely process information. Information is “physical order,” says Cesar Hidalgo. So any interaction that alters physical order, processes information. Matter computes.

8. Until recently our tools were mostly like sieves or axes = “solidified chunks of order” — objects embodying and enacting simple fixed logic — crystallized information. But computers mean single objects can embody multiple complex, updatable logics.

9. The flexible logic of computers generally require detailed step-by-step instructions, or algorithms. (Note: Life needs what algorithms do; DNA is 2-billion-year-old software.)

10. “Little has changed algorithmically” in AI recently, notes Bart Kosko. What’s new is running old algorithms faster and cheaper. Which means IBM’s Watson, while impressive, is glorified Googling (Roger Schank). And AI can teach itself elite chess only because it’s easily algorithmized (it has fixed rules, unlike human life).

11. Humans are “machines that think,” says Sean Carroll. But our information-processing logic is uniquely flexible. Our software isn’t only in our genes.

Those close to AI’s innards aren’t afraid. It’s up to us to use our natural intelligence well, to leverage AI's narrow powers intelligently.


Illustration by Julia SuitsThe New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

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