It’s time for an artificial intelligence reality check

The Singularity is coming! The Singularity is coming!

If you’re getting tired of hearing that “strong AI” is just around the corner, you’re not alone. The Stephen Hawkings, Ray Kurzweils, and Elon Musks of the world have been putting humanity on notice with predictions of machines overtaking humans for decades.

It’s either the dawn of utopia or the start of a nightmare, depending on who’s talking. And every time they’re issued, the media jumps on them, because being on the cusp of a new era of intelligent beings is news.

What’s missing from these confident claims, however, is a realistic assessment of the problems that rank-and-file computer scientists wrestle with every day — namely, the problem of intelligence.

In their single-minded zeal, the futurists assume that a bridge exists between narrow applications of AI and the general intelligence humans possess. But no such bridge exists. We’re not even on the right road to such a bridge.

In his recent book The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can’t Think the Way We Do, computer scientist and tech entrepreneur Erik J. Larson explains how a simplified view of intelligence has permeated AI research since the beginning, retarding progress in the field and putting the dream of truly intelligent computers at odds with reality: “[W]hen myth masquerades as science and certainty, it confuses the public, and frustrates non-mythological researchers who know that major theoretical obstacles remain unsolved.”

The myth of AI, says Larson, can be traced back to an error about intelligence made by computer pioneer Alan Turing in the early 20th century.

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