Robots may never see Jesus in a bun

Neural networks – human constructions of computer code devised to act and interact similarly to neurons in the human brain – are encouraging bemusement, if not downright befuddlement, in their human creators. As this fascinating article in Nautilus, entitled “Artificial Intelligence is Already Weirdly Inhuman” makes clear, or at least clearish, you can set the algorithms running without being clear where they will end up. What may be even weirder, in the spirit of the title, is that where they end up may make sense without any human being the wiser as to how they got there.

Mirroring the human brain’s pattern of perceive, then interpret, then produce an output: the algorithm devised to distinguish a cheetah from a vehicle will develop to a point where it is right more often than a human, being able to distinguish beast from bus when all the human sees is a smear of pixels. What is even harder for the human is to reverse engineer the process by which the ever more complex, machine-produced lines of code can take the computer’s interpretative capabilities beyond that of the human. Echoing Star Trek: “It’s intelligence, Jim, but not as we know it.”

We should bear in mind that by the time that machine intelligence is determined to match or exceed human intelligence, the problem of apples and pears might render the comparison meaningless. And it might fall to the machines to tell us, rather than us tell them. “Listen, people: you will not only see the image of Jesus in a hot cross bun, when there are no consensual criteria for what the man even looked like, but you then conclude that he is talking to you! What sort of intelligence is that?”

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