[Update: I haven't seen in the comments an example of intelligent behavior that a human has and a computer does not (or can not have) with today's technology. I see examples of things that GROUPS of humans can do (design a better computer) and I see examples where the missing ingredient is motive, not intelligence, and I see examples where emotion is conflated with intelligence, and I see examples where humans do things by trial and error. I can't comment on your older comments because my blogging software doesn't display them in my stupid CMS. -- Scott]

Maybe the reason that scientists are having a hard time creating artificial intelligence is because human intelligence is an illusion. You can't duplicate something that doesn't exist in the first place. I'm not saying that as a joke. Most of what we regard as human intelligence is an illusion.

I will hedge my claim a little bit and say human intelligence is mostly an illusion because math skills are real, for example. But a computer can do math. Language skills are real too, but a computer can understand words and sentence structure. In fact, all of the parts of intelligence that are real have probably already been duplicated by computers.

So what parts of intelligence are computers failing to duplicate? Answer: The parts that only LOOK like intelligence to humans but are in fact just illusions.

For example, science knows that we make decisions before the rational parts of our brains activate. So if you make a computer that thinks first and then decides, you haven't duplicated human intelligence. If you want your computer to think like people it has to start with an irrational set of biases, make decisions based on those irrational biases then rationalize it after the fact in ways that observers think are stupid. But no one would build such a useless computer, or even try.

I laughed about the recent reports of a computer that passed the Turing test by pretending to be a teenager that was such an airhead jerk that he never answered questions directly. That fooled at least some of the observers into thinking a real teen was behind the curtain instead of a computer. In other words, the researchers duplicated human "intelligence" by making the computer a non-responsive idiot. Nailed it!

Allow me to go through some examples of what we might regard as human intelligence and I'll show you why it is nothing but illusions.

Politics: When it comes to politics, humans are joiners, not thinkers. The reason a computer can't have a political conversation is because politics is not a subset of intelligence. It is dogma, bias, inertia, fear, and a whole lot of misunderstanding. If you wanted to program a computer to duplicate human intelligence in politics you would have to make the computer an idiot that agreed with whatever group it belonged regardless of the facts or logic of the situation.

If you insisted on making your computer rational, all it would ever say is stuff such as "I don't have enough information to make a decision. Let's legalize weed in Colorado and see what happens. If it works there, I favor legalizing it everywhere." In other words, you can program a computer to recommend gathering relevant information before making political decisions, which is totally reasonable and intelligent, but 99% of humans would vehemently disagree with that approach. Intelligent opinions from machines would fail the Turing test because irrational humans wouldn't recognize it as intelligent.

Love: A computer can't feel love, but love is an irrational chemical reaction that causes us to mate and care for families. There's no intelligence in love.

Buying a New Car: Do you need intelligence to select a new car? Apparently you don't need much, because two people in the same situation will select different cars. We get influenced by the color, the style, and other factors that appeal to our bias. From there we rationalize away the low gas mileage and the bad reliability. The only genuine thinking involved in buying a car involves knowing if you have enough money for it, and a computer can do that. A computer could do the rest by being programmed to have a favorite color and a particular style preference (flashy or boxy). Then the computer can rationalize the choice after the fact, same as humans. But there is very little human "intelligence" involved.

Following Complicated Instructions: We humans often need to follow complicated instructions to complete tasks. When the directions are clear, about half of all humans will get the job done right and half will get it wrong. A computer could probably succeed at about the same rate already. If we try to create a computer that always gets instructions right, we aren't duplicating human intelligence because humans can't do that. Humans only get things right on a regular basis when the instructions are simple and clear. Computers can already do that.

I could go on forever with different examples of human behavior that appear intelligent but are not. My point is that we are looking to the future for the day when computers equal us in intelligence when in reality that day is behind us.

Okay, commenters, give me an example of human "intelligence" that a computer can't already duplicate with a little programming effort. And keep in mind that it has to be an example in which nearly all humans would make the same choice. Otherwise the computer can duplicate the behavior by randomness or a set of programmed biases, and none of that is intelligence.

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book



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Aug 6, 2014
So you're saying there is no such thing as intelligence because most people are biased, illogic morons?

The Turing test itself is a moronic idea.
It doesn't judge intelligence, it judges likeness to human behavior.

One can program a Homer Simpson bot that will pass the Turing test, but that bot won't be intelligent at all.
Aug 5, 2014

So, collectively, humans can make a computer that is more intelligent than one of them individually? Why not make a group of these computers and get them to develop a new computer that is more intelligent than any one of them, then repeat? Since working with a group of other people surely isn't intelligence, this plan should work nicely. I'll settle for a 20% cut of the Nobel Prize money once you've accomplished this.

I think you're a bit off with the Turing example. "Computers were able to feign human intelligence by emulating someone who displays none". Hell, I could make a macro in excel that would pass on that basis. Q: "What is your name" A: "U WOT M8" Q: "What is your favourite colour?" A: "U MAD??" Q: "What is the average air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?" A: "Yolo Swag". Exceedingly difficult. Also, that isn't how the 'average person' would answer. Since you rely on 'the-average-person-in-day-to-day-life' for justifying your opinion, you should perhaps stand by that when giving examples.

Do you have any examples of computers learning when they're put into a new environment? Kind of like how they get octopii or crows to solve puzzles? I think the ability to learn and survive when necessary is a stronger indicator of intelligence than the general complacency people exhibit when going about their routine, day-to-day lives (you can program routine fairly easily).

Anyway, this comic seems appropriate: http://xkcd.com/1386/
Aug 4, 2014
Something's been bugging me for a while and I'm hoping Scott will think about it.

Whenever I try to define free will, it falls apart as recursive nonsense. The concept is based on pure nonsense. That's not what's bugging me, though. What bugs me is that when I accept that free will is meaningless nonsense, then my next thought is "therefore, consciousness itself is just an illusion."

The reason that bugs me is that I don't see the connection--I don't understand why one thought should logically follow the other. Is it a mental hiccup, a simple non sequitur based on a feeling? I could dismiss it as such, but I can't find a motive for thinking this. Usually when I catch myself having delusional thoughts, I can uncover my motive pretty easily. This feels different, it feels like a "eureka" moment--but I can't accept it as such if I can't follow the reasoning.

Why did my "webgrunt" account get twitted?
Aug 4, 2014
Win a chess g...wait...win Jeopardy...uh, nevermind.

Write a bestselling novel. Compose a bestselling piece of music. Or create anything that has widespread emotional appeal.

The buyers of the product may be acting on emotion, but it takes intelligence to create a successful product that will appeal to that emotion. As far as I know, there's no way to quantify what will make one writer or other artist wildly successful and another one only moderately so. There's no formula or instruction that can be followed to do it.

I don't think we yet know how to program creativity or imagination.

Humor is similar. It does follow certain rules, so it's possible that a computer might be able to write some basic jokes, but I am very skeptical that any computer program could come close to the success of, say, Gabriel Iglesias or Scott Adams.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 4, 2014
You basically claim that humans are too irrational to be intelligent, by your definition of intelligence based on rationality. This is true, the majority of the human brain is not rational, it is only there to process threats to the self-interest.

If this is true, humans being overly irrational, how can an irrational human like you define 'intelligence' rationally?
Aug 3, 2014
if intelligence is just an illusion, surely it would be very easy to copy and to create a computer that produces the same illusion? A compute that choses a car because it has the right color that matches his keyboard design?
This reminds me of BF Skinner, who seriously argued that there is no such thing as personal decisions, or personal subjective experience for that matter. He may not have had any personal subjective experience himself, as he was most likely autistic (or a robot created by aliens). Also, his idea that all human behaviour can be explained by conditioning is clearly false. However, he did give his adversaries a good run for their money, as a lot of our decisions are clearly based on external influences such as upbringing, education, religious membership, and other forms of brain washing. Yet, we live the illusion that we independently chose that decision ourselves. So, maybe you are the new BF Skinner?? Hail to our New Lord...
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 2, 2014
Strange thing to say. There are all sorts of tasks that people can do - even children - that computers can't. For example, understand the rules of a game, with an unfamiliar mechanic simply by observing, extrapolate abstract principles from partial data (e.g. cows are always combinations of white, brown and black), hypothesise a cause of a situation, or distinguish which of two stories is factual, or at least intended to be, and which is fictional.

They probably *could* be solved with programming effort, but that's what AI research is. We can program computers to do simplified versions of these tasks in an extremely restricted domain, but nowhere near as abstract as humans.
Aug 2, 2014
Trying to think of an example is an exercise in trying to figure out the differences between intelligence, inspiration, intuition, problem-solving skills......haven't thought of an example but I keep hearing my Mom saying, "You're intelligent but you have no common sense."
Aug 2, 2014
Trying to think of an example is an exercise in trying to figure out the differences between intelligence, inspiration, intuition, problem-solving skills......haven't thought of an example but I keep hearing my Mom saying, "You're intelligent but you have no common sense."
Aug 2, 2014
Trying to think of an example is an exercise in figuring out the differences between between intelligence and inspiration, intuition, problem-solving skills......haven't thought of an example but I keep hearing my Mom saying, "You're intelligent but you have no common sense."
Aug 1, 2014
Can human's recognize intelligence? I only ask because recently I came across one of what I would judge to be the craziest of the tin foil hat blog posts ever (I should note that I was googeling "Hoover Dam angels" and it was one of the top results). Now the part of me that goes to work M-F and pays bills says that the writer is a certifiable nutjob, the part of me that enjoys "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" wonders if he is on to something.
Aug 1, 2014
I would opine that a human can be faced with a choice of an apple or a cream cake. A human can choose the cake because we, "like," it. That is also a choice which is made after rational thinking and concluding that we prefer the cake because of the effect that it has on the taste sensors of the body. The apple would have less of an effect on the amount of fat around the stomach and/or hips.

My own conclusion of some years is that if you want to ape human intelligence ... toss in a random number generator ... or a ten pence piece and invent a coin tossing machine.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 31, 2014
Can a computer teach itself to walk and talk and dance and sing even if it had no outside help except observation and trial and error?
Jul 31, 2014
Roger Penrose has a proof that his theorem about aperiodic tilings cannot be proven by any machine algorithm. It is essentially a proof that the processes which create biological intelligence are fundamentally different than any computational device yet conceived.

I do, however, believe it is probably possible to mimic what biological brains are doing -- once scientists figure out what that is. The simple reason AI hasn't worked is no one (yet) knows what that is. Humans may one day build a better brain - but it won't be like any computer that currently exists.
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Jul 31, 2014
"Update: I haven't seen in the comments an example of intelligent behavior that a human has and a computer does not (or can not have) with today's technology. "

So....why isn't today's technology doing everything for us? Why aren't machines writing the scripts for TV shows, etc.

Methinks you don't really understand the true scale of the problem. Getting artificial intelligence working is not just a case if dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's.

Making a computer respond like a teenager isn't a good yardstick because most teenagers don't actually do anything useful. Answering back is pretty much all they do.

The important part of what humans do comes later on, and that's where computers have the problems (I don't think Alan Turing was thinking of "teenagers" when he formulated his test).
Jul 31, 2014
It should read "Is p0rnografeee an illusion?" Pretty sensitive filter you got there. Something else computers are not very good
Jul 30, 2014
[Intelligence is an illusion in the sense that no one agrees what is included in the definition, and everyone reaches different conclusions with the same data, yet we think we all have intelligence and we think we sort of "know" what it is. -- Scott]

Is !$%*!$%*!$% an illusion?
Jul 30, 2014
[ OK, a computer cannot come up with an example of human intelligence that a computer can't already duplicate with a little programming effort.

[Neither can a human, judging from the comments on this blog. -- Scott] ]

But they can! We may not agree with all of the answers, but they are many reasonable ones. I'll give you a rule that will enable you -- but probably not a computer -- to come up with as many examples as you like. A computer will not be able to perform tasks that requires self-awareness.

- Design a test that can detect a computer posing as a human.
- List five things that annoy you about internet commenters
- Describe how would your life be different if you had blue hair.
- List three ways to improve your interaction with the Apple UX.

Now certainly a human can can program a computer to provide his/her opinions, and to simulate refection and self-awareness, but until the computer actually becomes self-aware, they will not be able to perform tasks that require them.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 30, 2014
What's the point of this article? It feels a little like gotcha journalism. Intelligence is essentially being defined as decisions that 100% of humanity agrees upon, more or less reducing it's scope to math/hard science (which already seems like a generous concession since there are pockets of humans who don't "believe" in science/math).

Given that restriction - yes, computers are just as intelligent as humans. Scott wins! However, that seems like a fairly drastic alteration in what we all think of when we talk about Artificial Intelligence. Don't we want AI to be more like the movie Her? An entity that understands emotions and humor?
Jul 30, 2014
@danbert8: I am a researcher in Image Analysis, and computers are increasingly able to say what's going on in an image. In fact there are research groups working specifically on sports action recognition, among other things. We have miles to go, but we are moving towards it.

To answer Scott's question, as we researcher's say: it is not difficult to solve a (solvable) problem. So no wonder the computers can answer questions or solve problems. The difficult part is finding the problem, or asking the question. As you yourself would say, Scott, we don't know what we don't know. This when someone asks a question or poses a problem for the first time, they are actually picking up something from the vast ocean of unknown and giving it a name. This is still a human's job and I don't think machines will take over that part anytime soon. After the problem is posed, solving that problem is easier. Machines can do that.
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