...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thinking Machines?

The (2015) annual Edge question (which essentially asks if you believe machines will ever be able to think) and responses have been posted; a lot of good reading here, though I've only scanned a handful of responses thus far:

Very few mathematicians included, but I do especially like Keith Devlin's answer (apologies if readers are sick of hearing me say that, but I genuinely do!):

Keith sees "no evidence to suggest that such [machine-thinking] may even be possible," noting that just "because something waddles like a duck and quacks, does not make it a duck." Machines can make decisions, but that doesn't mean they think. But he does worry about "the increasing degree to which we are giving up aspects of our lives to machines that decide, often much more effectively and reliably than people can, but very definitely do not think."

Another writer I enjoy, William Poundstone, takes a different tack from Devlin, accepting the possibility more seriously:

A couple of other responses (out of ~180) I've liked so far:
Roger Schank:  http://edge.org/response-detail/26037   [corrected link]

Frank Wilczek:  http://edge.org/response-detail/26039  [corrected link]

A number of writers make the same point that "thinking machines" already exist on Earth: they're called "humans" (although I think this merely highlights the semantic variability in how people interpret the word "machine").

I also love Freeman Dyson's simple, succinct response... leave it to Freeman to reply to a deep Edge question in 3 sentences... 'nuf said:  http://edge.org/response-detail/26254

Can't help but notice that Ray Kurzweil isn't included among the respondents... not sure which, if any, of the responders are associated with him or his work???

Seems roughly like an even split between those who believe thinking machines are impossible or at least unlikely, and those who think them possible, if not inevitable (but I haven't done a careful tally, so could be wrong). More encouraging, is what seemed a predominant view, that even if thinking machines develop they will not be prone to malevolence, and will either remain under human control, or have ethics built in.

I presume these essays (per usual) will soon be available in paperback book form, but haven't seen the volume yet.

It's interesting, by the way, that just recently, Google announced they will discontinue making the current version of their much-ballyhooed Google Glass, a product that many of us, without even trying it, could see little market enthusiasm for. Similarly, I won't be surprised if Google cars totally flop in the near-future (even though, longer-range, there's no doubt a place for something like them). Much of the wild speculation about machine-thinking likewise seems wholly premature... just as Arthur C. Clarke's HAL of 2001 was waaay ahead of its time. As a student 40 years ago, I remember so many musings and predictions of coming advances that have yet to transpire. We're often quite inept at predicting the usefulness and timetable of new technology. Heck, I'm still waiting for my commuting battery-powered jetpack that the Jetsons had in 1962. C'mon Google (actually, one of my favorite companies), get with the program ;-)

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