turing today, turing tomorrow

The complicated relationship between the field of AI and Turing’s legacy goes back to the beginning. Professors Marvin Minsky of M.I.T. and John McCarthy of Stanford are considered the founders of Artificial Intelligence as a formal discipline or research program, and both are still active as of this writing. In a survey article in the Proceedings of the IRE in 1961, Minsky defends the idea that computers might think by saying that “we cannot assign all the credit to its programmer if the operation of a system comes to reveal structures not recognizable nor anticipated by the programmer,” implying that at least some part of such a surprising result must be due to thinking by the machine. He caps his argument with the words: “Turing gives a very knowledgeable discussion of such matters.” He quotes nothing specific, just appeals to Turing’s stature and authority. But in 2003, Minsky expressed his disappointment and frustration at the lack of progress made by AI toward achieving Turing’s goals: “AI has been brain-dead since the 1970s…. For each different kind of problem, the construction of expert systems had to start all over again, because they didn’t accumulate common-sense knowledge…. Graduate students are wasting three years of their lives soldering and repairing robots, instead of making them smart. It’s really shocking.”

Raj Reddy, another winner of the Turing Award and former president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, takes a much rosier view of the matter. In a 1996 paper, Reddy begins with the usual bow to Turing, then says, “Since its inception, AI has made steady progress.” As an illustration, he mentions a wide variety of accomplishments, such as playing high-level chess, guiding an automobile down a road, and making possible the “electronic book.” But he nowhere mentions attempts to pass the Test or do anything remotely like it. Instead, he attacks those who minimize AI’s achievements, like Hubert Dreyfus, author of What Computers Can’t Do…

more from The New Atlantis here.