Most Human Human and Machine Intelligence

I've had a chance to read a galley copy of "The Most Human Human", by Brian Christian. This relates to his quest in the 2009 Loebner Prize Turing Test competition. Besides identifying the "most human computer", the annual event also designates a person who has been most confidently identified by the judges as human. In a 5 minute interactive text exchange each judge has to both select "human" or "computer" and their confidence in their selection, which leads to the two potential 'winners' (humans get no substantial awards for being human, and are discouraged from trying to simulate a machine.)
Christian raises the interesting question in the process of "how do we know what is human?" This is the focus of the book -- pursuing historical concepts from Greek Philosophers, to modern instantiations such as Garry Kasparov's chess competitions with IBM's Deep Blue. (Christian is aware of the then upcoming Jeopardy--Watson match, but went to print prior to that.) This approach ends up focusing on the diversions and "rat holes" more than the question of what distinguishes humans, intelligence, or consciousness. Since this specific instantiation of the Turing Test has a time limit (expanded from 2009 at 5 minutes, to a 25 minute head-to-chip comparison for 2011) the AI's created for the contest are "purpose built". Much of Christian's discussion focuses on differentiation from the 'single purpose' programs of the past to be convincingly distinguished as human.
Many of the points he raises provide insight on the nature of being human:
  • Persons have a consistent, unique identity (not changing point of residence, gender, relationship status or such from one input line to the next.) Exemplar AI's do not have this same sense of personal history/identify.
  • Persons have a sense of context -- except, interestingly enough, Christian points out when they are arguing ... then responses often degenerate to reply to the last comment made, not the initial topic triggering the dispute. Some (at times convincing) AI's simply respond to the most recent input with no continuity.
  • Persons 'add value' (hopefully) in interactions, ideally surfacing new concepts which were not implicit from strict analysis. (Christian touches on left brain/right brain distinctions here.)
And his listing goes on -- returning regularly to the point of "how can I use this to emerge as the most human human?"
From the technologists perspective, and getting to Turing's initial concept, "how would we know if an AI can think?" Here I find the Lobener approach to be simplistic. Fooling 30% of the judges in 2009, and 50% in 2011 does not satisfy my criteria for "thinking" (of course I'm not sure that some persons, perhaps politicians for example would clear my hurdle here either.) Consider a few alternative situations:
  • An AI which is not purpose built but consistently is considered to be a human respondent in general discourse
  • An entity known to be an AI which is generally agreed is thinking, conscious, intelligent...
Perhaps a more challenging concept is an AI that is thinking, but doesn't pass the Turing test ... perhaps because it does not care to be judged against human standards. It is a point of some arrogance in the part of humans to presume that the only instantiations of 'thinking', 'consciousness' or 'intelligence' must be evident as paralleling similar human characteristics.


Thinking about China, #1

If you have not wondered how the global future will evolve given the (re)-emerging strength of China, you may not have been wondering enough.

China has 13 million folks with a "genius" IQ (1% of the population), is graduating many engineers, and has senior leadership in government with engineering degrees. China has 4000+ years of valuing education, and is rapidly becoming the largest population of persons who can speak English.

China does have significantly different cultural roots and traditions from "western" countries. This makes it difficult to understand where we have "common ground." China seems comfortable combining "Communism" with almost unfettered capitalism. Entrepreneur's abound in China, driving an exploding economy and rapid increases in GNP. At the same time it is clear that the Chinese government exerts very strong controls in some areas. Some of these controls run strongly counter to "western" sensibilities. But ...

Consider the reality that China, from a government run economic perspective, can make strategic investments in areas it considers important. This can be education (engineering among other fields), it can be industries, and it can be geo-political influence (Africa as one focus for example.) This puts a lot of resources to bear on targeted objectives ... and since China is rapidly becoming one of the richest countries in the world (GNP to exceed US by 2020 or so), this warrants consideration.

I am currently studying Chinese history -- something we do not cover in U.S. education systems in any depth. When I was in China some twenty years ago, my host indicated "we have been here 4,000 years, we will be here another 4,000 years, right now we are communist." ... a sense of history that is hard to grasp in a country with just over 200 years of it's own history.

There are periodic discussions of emerging China on TED.com, two recent talks include:
Which provide a bit of current context. For those seriously interested, I do not doubt that learning Mandarin would be a useful exercise. Language reflects how we think, and both Chinese language and the Hanzi character set provide a level of insight. Note that the concept of "spelling" does not exist with Hanzi, rather it is properly forming the characters that is critical to clear communication -- so the mental concepts involved diverge from western languages in very basic ways.

However you look at the future, China will play a major role. I fully expect China to be a leading source of innovation, new technology, and scientific breakthroughs over the next decades. I will not be surprised to find China landing on Mars (the Red planet is appropriate for many reasons), and leading in Genetic Engineering as well as technology. There will be spectacular failures along these paths -- but this again reflects different cultural backgrounds and values, and may be viewed by China as part of the "cost of doing business".