In the introduction to her history of artificial intelligence, Pamela McCorduck writes, "Looked at in one way, ours is a history of self-imitation."(1) From the golems of Jewish legend to Frankenstein's monster, humanity has a persistent fascination with creating things like itself. With the advent of computer technology this dream, this persistent legend, has been given the chance to become reality. The HALs and Deep Thoughts of fiction have become the A.L.I.C.E.s and Deep Blues of fact.
But the dream - so seemingly close - is at the same time frustratingly distant. To create computers which are useful tools is convenient, but to create computers which are like us, computers with which we can talk, computers which are intelligent and, above all, conscious, escapes us, and the continual failure has made many philosophers and practitioners skeptical. The philosophers Herbert Dreyfus and John Searle are openly critical of the artificial intelligence movement, and much "artificial intelligence" research is now devoted not to creating computers which can pass the Turing test but computers which can perform with adequate flexibility in very limited situations. The Loebner Prize, which offers a stunning $100,000 prize and a gold medal "(Solid 18 carat, not gold-plated like the Olympic "Gold" medals)" to the first computer that passes the Turning Test, has yet to be claimed. For all the cleverness of modern computers, the question remains: can computers be conscious? Can computers think?
Contents copyright © K. Feete, 2002. All rights reserved.