Come with me if you want to live

Artificial intelligence isn’t. At least not yet anyway.

When I was at uni I did a whole semester on AI, specifically neural networks. For our final project we created a program that could analyse a bit of music and tell you what genre it was in. We’d feed it the chord progression (C major, A minor etc) and it would spit out a value telling you whether it was jazz, blues, rock or classical.

The interesting thing is that we didn’t write this program. We taught it. It learned.


Initially the program knew nothing about music. It ate a song and then guessed the genre, usually incorrectly, in which case we chastised it. When it guessed correctly we rewarded it. After a while we could feed it a song it had never “heard” before and the guess was pretty accurate. Once we even gave it a song that was a fusion of classical and jazz, and it correctly identified it as being both.

Don’t worry about skynet taking over just yet. Although AI can do some pretty cool things, the big breakthrough we’ve been hearing about for decades hasn’t shown up yet.

But if or when we do hit this breakthrough, what will happen? One answer is an idea called the singularity. Basically it is a point in time when everything will change. It’s a point in the future beyond which our imagination fails us, because our current level of intelligence is incapable envisioning it.

Here’s one example of how the singularity might play out:

  1. we invent an AI as smart as ourselves
  2. we invent an AI smarter than ourselves
  3. this AI then invents an AI smarter than itself
  4. repeat step 3 as many times as you like
  5. The new AIs think up a theory of everything, solve P vs NP, invent flying cars, etc.

So is this just all science fiction bullshit? Maybe. How could it be possible to create something more intelligent than yourself? Then again, the process looks remarkably like evolution doesn’t it?

Either way, visions of skynet becoming self aware and nuking us are a bit far fetched. Rather than one unified intelligence besieging humanity, we are more likely to end up with a billion separate AIs, all created for different purposes. I always wanted my own Jane.

We could be on the verge of something incredible. Or the next forty years could pass like the last forty, with no significant advancements. The field of artificial intelligence has had it’s Newton, now it needs an Einstein. Any takers?


4 thoughts on “Come with me if you want to live

  1. “How could it be possible to create something more intelligent than yourself?”
    By having sex?

    I think Douglas Adams had it right when he wrote that the earth was a biological computer designed to work out the answer to life, the universe and everything. Check that: the answer is 42, the earth was designed to work out the QUESTION!

  2. That’s why I said, “the process looks remarkably like evolution doesn’t it?”

    But I really meant to ask if it was possible to design an intelligence smarter than yourself. Sexual reproduction doesn’t work through design, it works through trial and error.

    The current state of artificial intelligence is no better. Pioneers looked at the most basic component of our brains – neurons – and tried to model them in software. Connect a bunch of them up together and you’ve got yourself an artificial neural network. But how do you make it do anything useful? You play around with it using trial and error, just like in sexual reproduction and evolution.

    In fact, the evolution analogy goes one step further when you start looking at genetic algorithms, which try and mimic the reproduction, mutation, and natural selection seen in biology to produce the most efficient solution to a given problem.

    The further we get into the study of AI, the more we are limited by the lack of understanding of how our own brains work. Once we figure that out, we might be able to replicate it, or even improve on it.

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