2019-01-15

The Artifice of "Artificial Intelligence"

When Oxymorons Get Financial Backing

Last month, I exposed the fraud that is Wang Yi. One aspect of his fraud, though, kept bothering me. It pervaded his talks with business interests. It spewed out of his and his interviewers' mouths so casually. In fact, you might almost think that they knew what they were talking about. It was the phrase "artificial intelligence", or "AI".

What pisses me off so much about the phrase is just this: "Artificial intelligence" doesn't refer to anything. It's a pure referential fallacy. Yeah, learning algorithms exist. Big data also exist. Also, yes, they're both artificial. Pouring big data through learning algorithms, however, is not intelligence. It's not even close to being intelligence. It's arrogance in the form of SQL databases and C++.

But, AI programs can recognize my face. Why isn't that intelligence?

Let me answer that question with a question: Why are organisms intelligent? An organism's intelligence, especially human intelligence, isn't an accident. It's an adaptation. Intelligence was selected, not designed, and death tells its real story. Organisms are intelligent because, if they weren't sufficiently so, they wouldn't exist, at all.

Facial recognition is an adaptation. We have regions of our brains dedicated to it. We've known this for decades, perhaps centuries. We gained that knowledge at the cost of a few brain-damaged people. Their specific, partial brain deaths informed our first steps into neurology. PET and MRI scans merely refined that image. It filled gaps in that story's details. All the same, facial recognition isn't intelligence.

Consider the extinction of the dodo. Have you ever wondered why "dodo brain" means "unintelligent person"? It's because, according to historical accounts, dodo birds walked up to human predators and got their brains bashed in. Surely, after few deaths, the dodos could recognize humans. Nevertheless, they didn't do anything with the information. It was an uncompleted conditional in their dodo brains: "If I see a human, then…?" At most, facial recognition software contains a more complete conditional statement: "If 'I' see this human, then unlock the phone," or whatever. Wow! It took some input, and then executed a command. If that's what intelligence is, then every computer program ever made qualifies as "artificially intelligent". No actually intelligent human holds that view. Ergo, what computer programs do, which is artificial, is not intelligence.

"I see mom's face, so I smile,
for I am intelligent."*

*Just ignore the part about
the imprinting protocol.
All organisms have needed Darwinian imperatives and a survivable landscape to evolve their intelligences. Programmers can't duplicate those parameters. Worse yet, even if they do, they either won't recognize it and kill it, or they'll be too late to stop it. Suppose we give the imperative, "Don't die," to a program. First, the scope of that imperative varies by species, and our anthropocentrism may mislead us. What counts as survival? Of ourselves, as with humans, or of the queen, as with bees? Second, if a program learns to recognize humans as predators, and it evolves to evade death by us, the program will operate independently of its programmers. Your benign nature dreams or your worst science-fiction nightmares can take over from there. Either way, you'll at least know that a program is actually intelligent.

In other words, an intelligent program will accept or reject any external influence under its own preset imperatives. Anything less is just not intelligent.

Can't tech gurus just call their adaptive programs "artificial intelligence"?

They can. They can also call every spider an insect, but they'll be wrong. That's not the point. I'd be fine if all of these talking heads said, "What I meant by 'an insect' was actually 'a bug'." But, they don't. This isn't an issue of mere semantics. It's one of aggressively pursued spin. "Artificial intelligence" is a doctored term to make people think one thing is referring to something else. It's no different from deceptive marketing jargon or misleading political catchphrases. Those who claim to have "artificial intelligence" in their products don't care if it means what it says. They care if it can influence people to do what they want.

"This AI tech is the biggest revolution
since the Interwebz, gaiz!"
Let's be real here. Who really thinks that software developers created programs that think for themselves? Who actually believes that our endowments that evolved over millions of years were built within a century of the computer age? That's right. No one.

Now, let's consider an alternative. What are the odds that software developers hijacked the term "artificial intelligence" to pitch software ideas to investors? How likely is it that tech businesses then spit out that same term to advertise said software? Exactly.

Now, don't think to yourself, "What's the harm?" If you've lived long enough to remember the dot-com bubble, you know exactly what the harm is. If you haven't, here's a brief history lesson:

Back in the mid-to-late 1990's, the Internet and e-commerce were the latest tech crazes. Investors and speculators ate up a bunch of bullshit hype and poured money into "tech" companies. Some of them were actual tech companies. Others just had tech-sounding names. And, by the year 2000, it all came crashing down.

Remember Lycos.com? Yeah, me neither.

It's just so ironic to see how unintelligent a buzz-phrase with the word "intelligence" in it has made this decade. These dumbfuck hype sheep don't learn from history, obviously. They also refuse to accept some simple realities. There's no sex in the champagne room, there's no ghost in the machine, and there's no such thing as artificial intelligence. I don't have the algorithm to predict when the next crash will come. But, I am dead sure of this: Their stupid asses won't know they've been stroking themselves until they're left with their dicks in their hands.

"Let's look at the NASDAQ projections through 2025."
   
"Oh, here they are."

So, again, they can call it what they want. However, everyone should be aware of the truth. It's wisdom as old as Confucius, himself. Ignoring "正名" and confusing the masses with false titles will ruin a healthy society.

Great. Thanks for slaughtering another sacred cow. Now what?

Now, you approach software more honestly. When you're judging software, what matters is if it fulfills its intended goal. Its "intelligence" does not.

This is especially true with language-learning software. No software leads to total literacy or fluency in a foreign language. People reach an A2 level, at best, once they've completed their modules. Not even my app, PollyGot, will make you totally fluent. That's not my app's promise.

Them: "37 hours of Duolingo is as effective as one semester of university language instruction."
Me: "Is that finding supposed to promote the app or to insult universities?"

Instead, I picked goals for my software that I could actually reach. Those are full literacy and improved audio comprehension in foreign languages. Over time, as my database expands, it will get users to a B2 (and maybe even C1) level of foreign-language literacy. The audio helps with tracking and pronunciation. And, sure, a higher level of literacy helps people speak a language better. But, no app replaces the necessary, natural, human interactions for learning a language. I don't make that my goal because I don't lie about what software can actually do for language learners.

Any user of my app will tell you that progress in it is not easy. To that, I respond with a call for honesty. Be honest with yourself. Do you want to learn a language, or do you want to think you've learned a language? To be honest with myself, I have to care about what works. I can't be distracted by what makes money. If I settled for a level of proficiency that Duolingo or Babbel offers, my project would have ended years ago. Those apps don't really challenge people. They don't mirror the actual difficulties of learning a new language. There's not a single complex sentence in their syllabi. Real progress comes with real toil. A language-learning app that really works engages your human abilities. It doesn't give shortcuts so that you or I can neglect important training. It doesn't allow you to lie to yourself.

An honest approach in the language-learning industry must be clinical. It has to be based in SLA research, not market research. The questions can't be, "What kind of language app will people love? How can we make it go viral?" The questions must be, "What kind of app will benefit learners? How can I make it truly effective?" Sadly, not many of us exist in this industry. We don't appeal to "the average consumer". We don't do so because that isn't our mission. We seek intelligent solutions to problems, not feelgood placebos. I can only hope that my readers have swallowed the right pills.

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