November 29, 2012

Does AI engage in behavioralism?

Noam Chomsky/From The Atlantic
Noam Chomsky, a long and persistent critic of artificial intelligence, says yes, or that it at least engages in the equivalent thereof, as related in this extended interview with the Atlantic.

If he is right, and I think he’s at least in the right ballpark, I think this arguably explains why AI, for all its self-touting, is the biggest research science and technology failure this side of peaceful fusion power. Indeed, progress on the two shares a remarkably similar arc.

The interview is indeed worth a read. It’s in-depth, and as the Atlantic editor-reporter notes, it’s rare these days, because everybody wants to interview Chomsky on political topics, not scientific ones.

Beyond his “behaviorist” comments, he suggests AI researchers, and at least some people in fields such as his own cognitive science, are still doing research on mind and intelligence at what might be called the wrong level of abstraction. It brings to mind Dan Dennett’s comment (ironic at times, given Dennett) of “greedy reductionism.”

It also brings to mind Paul Davies’ book “The Eerie Silence,” which criticizes SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, for various blinders it may be wearing in its search.

Chomsky, in the interview, also veers at least a bit into his home turf of linguistics. As part of that, he doesn’t have a lot of good to say about Bayesian statistics.

He says there are better ways for us to try to understand the “noise” with which we are bombarded on a daily basis.

To me, Bayesian statistics seems like “the hip thing” for pop and semi-pop observers of human cultural sociology. All it needs is a new book by Malcolm Gladwell.

For a more in-depth analysis of what I see Chomsky’s meaning, go here at my philosophy and arts blog.

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