Lesson 11: What is Artificial Intelligence?

feeling all sides of the elephantI want to return to Ira‘s observation that we are talking about many different understandings of artificial intelligence because it is basic to what I am finding. The individuals to whom I talked certainly did not share the same concept, but neither did the articles or studies I read.

Some referred to any task performed by a computer. Some spoke of machine-enhanced mental problem-solving, such as search machines. Some reserved the term for data-driven decision-making software programs, such as self-driving cars. Others confined it to machines thinking so well that they controlled human beings rather than vice versa. This last topic got into science fiction.

To some extent the individuals had different pictures related to their age. AI is developing so quickly that it expands constantly. For instance, I have written about artificial intelligence in the past, but when I started this series I didn’t even know what ChatGPT is.

Experience played a role as well. I had contact with a fairly representative cross-section of educated people Those who have posted comments include a cognitive scientist, a scholar of society, a college English teacher, an industrial engineer, and a government worker. Those who emailed or talked to me personally include pastors, college administrators, writers, a musician, an online teaching executive, and a financial adviser.

Everyone had different experiences that ranged from fooling around with AI out of curiosity to finding it essential in everyday work. Everyone had different opinions ranging from regarding it as an important advance in human evolution to believing it is a threat to civilized life.

In general, the businessmen saw it as a beneficial tool that saves time by organizing huge amounts of data. Scientists marveled at the information generated for research and technology. The academics appreciated the potential for enhancing scholarship but also the threat of faking it. The artists overwhelmingly felt it was dangerous because it deals with generalities that diminish the singularity of genius.

I come away thinking we presently have such different understandings, because we are in the middle of an ongoing development. We are still learning the benefits, limitations, and dangers of a new tool. That is especially important with modern technology that packs tremendous power. Consider the dilemma of atomic power. There are definite parallels.

The artists helped me grasp the situation with their perception of what is happening at the cutting edge of society. They observe that AI delivers construction, not creativity. Its gift is handling vast amounts of already available material.

However, this threatens to overcome quality with quantity. Intelligence is not simply the accumulation of vast amounts of information. It is much more the capacity to judge this information. And that is what culture, as I have been defining it, does.

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