Sunday 24 June 2012

Artificial intelligence conspiracy

Ask anyone in computer science or psychology about artificial intelligence (AI) and they will tell you the same thing, namely AI is at least twenty years away and will almost certainly require the development of quantum computing in order to become reality. This is slightly at odds with reports leaking out of IBM's super secret New Mexico research centre. Unlisted on any IBM documentation and unknown to any IBM staff below senior VP level this facility comprises two supercomputers that are significantly higher performance than the Sequoia computer that the public is aware of. Sequoia tested at 16.32 petaflops/second making it the fastest computer generally known. Rumours suggest that the New Mexico facility, known as the Gonzalez project (after the cartoon mouse) is running at 10x this speed. The suggestion that quantum computing is required for AI is a conceit based on a misunderstanding of the way in which human intelligence works. We have an idea, propagated by the media, that the human mind is essentially an organic computer, receiving sensory inputs and producing specific outputs. This is incorrect for two reasons. Firstly computers operate based on a set of instructions, without instructions the computer does nothing, with incorrect instructions the computer produces incorrect results, a phenomenon known as Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO). The human brain does not operate in this manner. Secondly computers operate by sequentially processing series of data, the human mind processes simultaneously.

In order for AI to operate successfully the computer needs to be able to function independently of programming, or to at least be able to re-write its own programming to modify operation. It also needs to be able to adapt and change connections, internally re-wiring itself to adapt to changing needs. Finally it needs to be able to operate without recourse to an external operator. None of these requirements is a condition of quantum mechanics, but is beyond currently public technology. Of course, what is public knowledge is not the same as what has been developed. Working with neuro-biologists, linguists and psychologists IBM has created software which is capable of evolving over time based on experience. This is the first step in true AI, a computer that can learn. In order to achieve this the machine has been programmed initially to solve complex mathematical modelling problems that involve multiple variables and have already happening in the real World. Each time the computer establishes a model it is tested against the real World result and the discrepancies highlighted. Unlike a standard computer modelling system the process of refining the mathematical algorithms driving the system is not done by human programmers but is done by the computer itself. Initially this was in response to a complex set of sub-routines that created rules against which the computer judged its models and made adaptations to the algorithms based on these rules.

The breakthrough came when researchers programmed Gonzalez to apply its rules for successful modelling to its own sub-routines establishing a self correcting protocol for software development. The system initiated fourteen changes to one of its climate modelling algorithms creating a 32% improvement in accuracy over pre-programmed models suggesting that the computer was able to learn and develop. This is only the first step in a much longer project, but if the reports are correct, this has tremendous potential for computer aided improvements to societal issues. We will have to see what happens next.

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