The common, and recurring, view of the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence research is that sentient and intelligent machines are just on the horizon. Machines understand verbal commands, distinguish pictures, drive cars and play games better than we do. How much longer can it be before they walk among us?
The new White House report on artificial intelligence takes an appropriately skeptical view of that dream. It says the next 20 years likely won’t see machines “exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans,” though it does go on to say that in the coming years, “machines will reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks.” But its assumptions about how those capabilities will develop missed some important points.
As an AI researcher, I’ll admit it was nice to have my own field highlighted at the highest level of American government, but the report focused almost exclusively on what I call “the boring kind of AI.” It dismissed in half a sentence my branch of AI research, into how evolution can help develop ever-improving AI systems, and how computational models can help us understand how our human intelligence evolved.
The report focuses on what might be called mainstream AI tools: machine learning and deep learning. These are the sorts of technologies that have been able to play “Jeopardy!” well, and beat human Go masters at the most complicated game ever invented. These current intelligent systems are able to handle huge amounts of data and make complex calculations very quickly. But they lack an element that will be key to building the sentient machines we picture having in the future.
We need to do more than teach machines to learn. We need to overcome the boundaries that define the four different types of artificial intelligence, the barriers that separate machines from us