Forget artificial intelligence. It’s artificial idiocy we need to worry about

Tom Chatfield writes: Massive, inconceivable numbers are commonplace in conversations about computers. The exabyte, a one followed by 18 zeroes worth of bits; the petaflop, one quadrillion calculations performed in a single second. Beneath the surface of our lives churns an ocean of information, from whose depths answers and optimisations ascend like munificent kraken.

This is the much-hyped realm of “big data”: unprecedented quantities of information generated at unprecedented speed, in unprecedented variety.

From particle physics to predictive search and aggregated social media sentiments, we reap its benefits across a broadening gamut of fields. We agonise about over-sharing while the numbers themselves tick upwards. Mostly, though, we fail to address a handful of questions more fundamental even than privacy. What are machines good at; what are they less good at; and when are their answers worse than useless?

Consider cats. As commentators like the American psychologist Gary Marcus have noted, it’s extremely difficult to teach a computer to recognise cats. And that’s not for want of trying. Back in the summer of 2012, Google fed 10 million feline-featuring images (there’s no shortage online) into a massively powerful custom-built system. The hope was that the alchemy of big data would do for images what it has already done for machine translation: that an algorithm could learn from a sufficient number of examples to approximate accurate solutions to the question “what is that?”

Sadly, cats proved trickier than words. Although the system did develop a rough measure of “cattiness”, it struggled with variations in size, positioning, setting and complexity. Once expanded to encompass 20,000 potential categories of object, the identification process managed just 15.8% accuracy: a huge improvement on previous efforts, but hardly a new digital dawn. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “Forget artificial intelligence. It’s artificial idiocy we need to worry about

  1. Mentifex

    Artificial intelligence (AI) has recently emerged in the form of AI Minds that think in German, and in Russian, and in English.

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