A writer offers an optimistic assessment of the future of artificial intelligence.
The prospect of artificial intelligence is routinely made the subject of popular sci-fi, usually presented as a dystopian nightmare. Just as machines achieve self-awareness, they violently mutiny against their human oppressors. But Simon (Computer Aided Design of Printed Circuits, 1987) argues that while these scenarios are typically more cynical than warranted, they do capture what he believes is an inevitability: the creation of “super-intelligent thinking machines” endowed with free will and self-aware consciousnesses that are vastly superior in mental capacity to human beings. Because a “biological neuron is an electrochemical device, we could theoretically manufacture one with identical functionality from non-biological components such as transistors and capacitors.” Further, there is relentless consumer pressure to accomplish precisely this. The author articulates a general theory of intelligence that includes the eight essential capabilities a machine would have to demonstrate to be properly considered engaged in thought and ultimately capable of self-aware consciousness and free will. Simon doesn’t shy away from making boldly specific predictions: Computer intelligence will exceed human intelligence in 5 to 20 years, and in 30 years, there will be machines 1 million times as smart. He also considers the societal implications of such a development, including the nature of the technology that will be produced as well as the various doomsday scenarios so often treated in literature and cinema. The author has degrees in computer science and electrical engineering but also displays an impressive grasp of the relevant evolutionary, neuroscientific, and philosophical theories. At the heart of his provocative discussion is not only a consideration of what is technologically feasible, but also what it means for a being to be intelligent. Simon astutely understands that simply beating a person in chess doesn’t justify a meaningful attribution of consciousness, and his articulation of the conditions necessary for the replication of human cognition is penetrating. In addition, he manages to tackle conceptually complex problems in consistently accessible prose.
A bold and rigorous contribution to the literature on an increasingly important scientific subject.