Artificial Intellect Really Thinking?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Artificial Intellect Really Thinking?


Byline: Fred Reed, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Can machines think? The question is tricky. Most of us probably remember the defeat of Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion, in 1997 by IBM's computer, Deep Blue. The tournament was part of the company's Deep Computing project, which designs monster computers for business and scientific research.

When a calculator takes a square root, we don't think of it as being intelligent. But chess is the premier intellectual game. Surely it requires intelligence?

But a curious truth about artificial intelligence is that if you know how it works, it ceases to seem intelligent.

Consider a computer programmed to find a route through a maze. It is impressive to watch the computer unerringly make its way through a complex tangle that a human would puzzle over for hours. When you find out that it is simply trying every potential path, but happens to be very fast at it, then it doesn't seem very smart.

So with a chess program. It typically has a "move generator" that makes a list of all potential moves from a given board position. It is a simple, mechanical, and apparently brainless process.

For example, a pawn that has been moved before can move one space ahead if nothing is in the way, or one space diagonally to take an opposing piece if one is there. If it hasn't been moved, it has the same choice with the additional possibility of moving two spaces ahead if nothing is in the way. A poodle might learn to do it.

Then an "evaluation routine" looks at the move and decides yes or no according to mechanical rules. The program just does a lot of if-then checks.

Doing this several moves into the future requires enormous computing power because the number of potential paths quickly becomes enormous. But the individual steps do not seem intelligent.

Interesting point: If you had the time (perhaps millions of years) and were really, really careful, you could go through the program with a pencil, step by tiny brainless step, and beat Mr.

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