A Science Fiction Writer Muses on Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Sentience
Artificial Sentience is a general theme in Science Fiction. Sometimes the computer sentience is friendly as in Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (one of my favorite SF books of all time), other times the artificial sentience is overtly inimical (the artificial intelligence inThe Matrix, Skynet in the Terminator movies), and sometimes it is schizophrenic as the HAL 9000 computer in 2001/2010 Odyssey movies.
I’m currently working on the third book in The Halcyon Cycle which I have tentatively named the Descent into Abaddon. In it one of my lead characters Al Gleeson has a debate with his friend Floyd Linder about Artificial Intelligence. Gleeson makes the following statement:
“There’s no such thing as a smart computer, only smart programmers.”
As an author, if I want to construct a realistic debate about this subject, I have to try to argue for both sides as convincingly as I can. One way to counter Al’s statement is to propose the Turing Test (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/turing-test/). In the test for computer intelligence proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 [Turing, A. (1950), “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind, 59 (236): 433–460], a human test subject would interact via keyboard (to make life as easy as possible for the machine) with two communicators: a human and a machine. After 5 minutes of communication if the test subject cannot identify the machine with better than 70% accuracy, then the machine is thought to be intelligent.
But think about what would happen if we put this into practice. After each failure (i.e. the human subject recognizes the machine), the programmers would analyze which bit of dialogue tripped up the machine and put in additional code to “give the human answer.” So with enough processing speed and a large enough memory, over time all of these written queries ought to be countered and so the machine should pass the test. But is the machine really intelligent or are the programmers simply very clever?
There may be another problem with this test: the computer may be too smart. If I were the test subject, I would ask the subject to cite a irrational number, say Euler’s Number to 27 decimal places. Any calculator could do it; I would not expect a human subject to do so. I suppose the programmers could code the computer to lie responding it can only cite e to two decimal places, but if it answered truthfully that would give it away. There are probably a large number of such tests, where the computer can provide data of such precision that it “would be busted” in its deception.
What do you think? Is it possible to design a sentient machine?
Thanks for reading,
Peter Kazmaier is author of the Science Fiction, The Halcyon Dislocation, available at Amazon.