Intelligence is more than the commoditisation of data

There’s a common presumption in much of the writing on AI that intelligence is primarily about computation and crunching data. In the words of the second link mentioned in Lively Stuff below, what “makes us smart” is the troika of activities identified as sensing, reasoning and communicating. And anything the machines cannot do is simply because computing power is insufficiently aggregated. For now.

Perhaps we debase ourselves and limit the terms of a potentially engaging debate if we default to equating intelligence with mere data and the power to crunch it. It is one thing to understand that by overlaying postcode data with a consumer’s smart phone GPS, we can discover the location of the nearest fast food outlet to relieve a craving for food. It is another thing entirely to understand the distinction between a search engine’s definition of the word “church”, for example, and the somewhat deeper and more humane, and moving, essence that is teased out by the poet addressing other cravings.

Google tells us that a church is, primarily, “a building used for public Christian worship”. Philip Larkin wraps one of his finest poems around a few more reflective definitions: “ . . . this cross of ground (that) held unspilt so long and equably what since is found only in separation – marriage, and birth, and death” and thus, a ground that is “proper to grow wise in, if only that so many dead lie round”.

While we can imagine machines replicating Larkin before monkeys do Shakespeare, who would bet that the intelligence needed to conceive of the poem in the first place, processing experience, emotion and imagination along with all that data, will ever be managed by AI? The wisdom of poetry does not lie in computation.

Lively Stuff from Planet BAM!

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