Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been bandied around for the last few decades or so and, I’m sure, most of us are still wondering: What exactly is this?

What’s the point of humans?

So, will we be faced with an army of Terminator-like humanoids who will reign terror across the world? Nah, we’re already effortlessly doing that all by ourselves! Will we witness “I, Robot”-like humanoids attending to our homecare needs – you know, washing, ironing, cooking and the like? Nah, I already have a wife that’s dutifully doing that. Okay, stop – I know I shouldn’t go there – just one small footnote though: My wife, Sarah, isn’t remotely domesticated, although she does cook once in a while!

Seriously though, I do fear that’s where most, if not all, of us are with our thoughts regarding AI – we dread the thought that robots or humanoids will ultimately replace us all – if so, what’s the point of humans, right? Unfortunately, it’s an inescapable thought surrounding AI but, for me, it’s largely been taken out of context and, in true industry fashion, the concept has endured an unimaginable amount of hyperbole. Likewise, Hollywood is also partially responsible for portraying the many thinking machines and exaggerating their capabilities!

Be careful what you wish for …

So, with this in mind, let me initially quash the misplaced paranoia: Firstly, I echo Professor Stephen Hawking’s sentiment in a BBC interview, which took place in December 2014. He said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” However, there’s one prediction that I can confidently make right now and that is the Terminators and “I, Robots” are fortunately a long way off and I will certainly not witness such technology in my lifetime nor, dare I say, will my daughter’s children’s children! 

We often observe in various news stories or on TV, the walking robots or robot dogs that awkwardly respond to their pre-set conditions; we have the ‘Sophia robot’ that apparently can hold a so-called conversation with you, which I find is akin to a frustrated dialogue with Amazon’s Alexa. In short, this technology is nowhere near what Hawking’s was alluding to when he described “full” AI, which is nowadays referred to as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). AGI has been described as “the intelligence of a machine that could successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can.”

For me, AGI does not refer to the ability to play chess, autonomously drive a car, see and/or identify objects, understand human speech or walk – I would consider this nothing more than the “AI effect.” In fact, I would argue that AGI (full AI) specifically refers to the ability for a machine to think, reason and assert itself. As such, I’m so, so confident that we are generations away from such a reality and Hawking’s statement in his interview is nothing more than “be careful what you wish for.”

It’s just clever programming and smart technology

So, I want address what I think is a more accurate reality of what is touted today and arguably misunderstood to be AI – more so, machines don’t think!

With advances in technology and the promise of how it will ease what might be considered “the mundane,” software and hardware have both become effectual in defining smart and intelligent. We have many engineers who develop software and hardware to address real-world issues. These engineers develop code that follows procedural rules; identifies patterns with known events, which in turn execute predetermined actions or results. This is not necessarily intelligence. Moreover, it’s rather straightforward for a software engineer to devise and develop algorithms that look for behavioural patterns based on data that’s sourced from a sensor, for example – we call it predictive this and that – it’s just clever programming and smart technology.

To perform intellectual tasks that human beings can

It is this clever programming and smart technology that’s currently regarded as AI and perhaps this is largely a misnomer, since there’s no actual intelligent entity, as such, behind the software and hardware making the decisions. The decision-flow process has been programmed to take actions based on certain events. Society is however wrapped up in the sci-fi fantasy of machines that make their own decisions, just like humans. There are some of us, in fact, that may even yearn for this to materialise (be careful what you wish for –remember!).

You see, as a former software engineer (25 years or so), I developed some wonderful things and provided some clever software which, in turn, did some damn ingenious stuff and in true software engineering arrogance, I considered myself “God-like.” Behind my software was a “mindset” of sorts to resolve specific problems, which I achieved through a series of instructions, patterns and numerous algorithms, accompanied with predetermined decisions, outcomes and behaviours. Yet, placing my arrogance aside, I struggle as to how to instantiate or create and bestow an intelligent entity, a “mind,” if you will, within software and hardware that will allow a machine to think and make decisions for itself. 

One last terrifying thought …

I want to now enter the philosophical realms of Cartesianism, broaching both René Descartes and the Scottish philosopher George Campbell’s work surrounding their rationale regarding the separation of the mind and body. I touch upon this subject, as I think it draws similar parallels as to how we might conceive a “mind” within a machine. I’m now off to crack open a bottle of red wine before I continue …

Descartes “Dualism” theory sought to investigate the connection between the mind and body and, ultimately, how they both interacted. His most notable quote was “Cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes regarded this “as proof of the reality of one’s own mind;” the ability to doubt your existence was testimony of a thinking entity. I dare say such a philosophy can be considered a testbed or used as a benchmark for a machine to assert its own existence – I’m alive! 

Now that’s a terrifying thought!

Until next time …

Realistically, artificial intelligence is nothing more than clever software programming and smart technology. The only intellectual bearing in the making of this technology are the engineers who design, develop and build it; these engineers bestow some kind of intelligence, but this is still a far cry from the robotic stereotypes of Hollywood!

So, this is where your “AI psychologist” Dr. G signs off.