Context #1 (Spring,
1999, pp. 16-19); copyright 1999 by The Nature Institute
Programming the Universe: Are Animals Robots?
Stephen L. Talbott
Artificial intelligence researchers are fond of creating little robots
that scurry around on the floor and possess - or will soon possess, so
we are assuredthe wit of an insect. The assumption, often made explicit,
is that with each technical advance the intelligence of these devices
will ascend another step of the evolutionary ladder, finally approaching
the mental cleverness and versatility of man.
But this gets things exactly backward. The truth of the matter is that
it is much easier to program human intelligenceor, at least, certain
aspects of itthan to program anything at all of an insect's intelligence.
After all, we're the ones who have invented computers. Clearly we
can learn to pattern our thinking in step with the mechanisms of a computer;
we do this every time we write a programand therefore the computer
so programmed is patterned after our thinking. The execution of a computer
program must reproduce our thinking in some sense. But it's quite
a different matter with the beetle, who is presumably a long way from
being able to hire on as a software engineer.
What artificial intelligenc