There’s been a lot of talk recently about AI being super-scary and that it represents one of humanity’s greatest risks. This has been mentioned, with almost hyperbolic sincerity, by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. While that might happen someday, the current state of AI is simply not there.
Google search, while impressive, isn’t “thinking”. At it’s heart, Google search is searching through a bunch of big lists, looking for some key terms and returning associated results. Then, periodically, those lists are tweaked and updated to become more accurate over time (note: Google is super smart; I’m way-trivializing here to make a point). While they are likely using all sorts of machine learning (iterating over big sets of data to generated more precise associations) to do this, the GoogleBot is not actually–literally–understanding what we’re typing. Most voice recognition stuff (think Siri, and I’m guessing Echo too–though I don’t know for sure) are using similar techniques.
What’s the difference? Well, if I ask, “what’s 2+2”, Google looks through its lists and finds that people searching for “what’s 2+2” want an answer of four. So they open up a little calculator app with 2+2 as the input and 4 in the output screen. However, if I ask the Google: “Google, what is the sum of numeral two added with the number two?” the Google looks through a bunch of lists and finds a bunch of possible associations. The first result Google decides to show me is the wikipedia entry for the number “2”. So, yeah. If I had asked you the second question, you would have said, “Four. Why are you so damn verbose?”
The big AI breakthrough will come when machines can finally comprehend and truly learn. And maybe once that happens, there will be an avalanche of AI progress, and then the computer overlords will smite us. That’s certainly possible, as this article about AI progress at Google seems to hint at. I would love to hear the finer details here, though I’m sure they would be difficult for me to comprehend.
My guess is that this will be an area that eludes us for some time. I usually err on the side of faster pace when prognosticating on tech advancements, but I think this problem is exponentially greater than many of the things the tech industry has solved up until now (I’m looking at you, My Singing Monster). Machine learning, in its current form, is a long way from machine comprehension.