Review of Thinking about Android Epistemology

By Morris, Robert | AI Magazine, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Review of Thinking about Android Epistemology


Morris, Robert, AI Magazine


Review of Thinking about Android Epistemology

This article is a review of Thinking about Android Epistemology by Kenneth Ford, Patrick Hayes, and Clark Glymour. Cambridge, MA: AAAI Press/The MIT Press.

In the recent past, scientists have attempted to mimic conditions of the early universe at the atom smasher called RHIC (relativistic heavy ion collider) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (Riorden and Zajc 2006). The result of colliding beams of gold traveling near the speed of light ("minibangs") allows physicists to observe the liberation of quarks and gluons from protons and neutrons, revealing conditions that existed at the earliest moments of creation of the universe, thus validating current theories of how the original mix of quarks and gluons phase-transitioned into the mundane soup of protons and neutrons that forms the building blocks of everything. Theoretical and experimental breakthroughs since the 1970s, as well as technological advances in the art of colliding and detecting particles, have made it possible to observe a new "energy frontier," with a wealth of results that will allow a refinement of our theories.

The question of the validity of the results obtained is a completely empirical matter. No one would seriously entertain the claim that the results obtained from RHIC are invalid because the results were obtained in an artificially induced laboratory setting rather than as the result of direct observation of nature. A (valid) simulation of the big bang is a (mini)-big bang.

By analogy, it is hard to observe directly in nature the mental states that lead to intelligent behavior because of the complexity of the brain and the lack of technology for examining these processes. Still, using symbolic representations of the building blocks of thinking, researchers in AI labs can execute programs that perform the sort of "symbol collision" that produces high-level thinking. Software systems that plan, control a complex device, or understand language simultaneously provide insight into the way such behavior is manifested in nature (namely, in human intelligence) and enable the development of automated software technologies for assisting humans in these tasks. As with cosmology, the results of artificially created intelligence validate theories of intelligence of the natural kind.

Android epistemology, as defined by the book under review, seeks to answer fundamental questions about the nature of such artificially intelligent machines. The theme of the book, "thinking about" machine intelligence, unfolds in a set of often entertaining essays by philosophers, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists. The topics related to this theme explored here are quite diverse and are typically presented in an informal, discursive style. Curious computer scientists specializing in AI will find the book useful for the purpose of surveying part of the philosophical underpinnings of AI. Especially insightful was the historical introduction by the book's editors, which included a trace of the intellectual heritage of AI pioneers to philosopher mentors. Conversely, noncomputer scientists should have their minds expanded by essays such as those by Herbert Simon and Paul Churchland, which clearly and concisely spell out and rigorously defend designs of architectures of machine intelligence.

The book is divided into four parts, each containing essays that roughly seek to answer the following four questions: (1) can machines be intelligent? (part I); (2) are human intelligence and machine intelligence based on the same underlying design principles? (part II); (3) what limitations, if any, to designing intelligent systems are provided by the frame problem? (part III); (4) what is the range of human traits that machines can exhibit? (part IV).

This book is a revision of the book Android Epistemology, published in 1995, containing a mixture of new essays and ones from the earlier volume. …

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