Why A.I. Is Brain-Dead

Publication Date: 
Mon, 08/11/2003
Media Coverage Category: 

In his role as agent provocateur, Marvin Minsky, cofounder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, recently told a surprised Boston University audience that the field of AI has lost its way. Researchers 

are making little progress developing computers with any knack for reasoning. He took a break from dictating the final chapters of an upcoming book into his G4 using ViaVoice software to give us his thoughts on gray goo, bartender bots, and the importance of plain ol' common sense.

Wired: The biggest name in artificial intelligence declares AI research "brain-dead" since the 1970s. What gives?
Minsky: There is no computer that has common sense. We're only getting the kinds of things that are capable of making an airline reservation. No computer can look around a room and tell you about it. But the real topic of my talk was overpopulation.

What's overpopulation got to do with AI?
The elderly segment of the population is growing to the point where there won't be enough doctors, nurses, and nurses' aides. We should be working to get robots to pick up the slack.

What's AI's biggest deficiency right now?
The lack of people with an interest in commonsense reasoning for computers. I've found maybe a dozen. Douglas Lenat's Cyc ["psyche"] is the only major program that has collected commonsense knowledge. But it's not there yet.

If AI's brain-dead, aren't you partially to blame?
No. I've been continually working on the problem. I'm trying to put a new project together, but it's hard to get 10 capable people. It would take five or ten years, and nobody wants to put that kind of time in - people want to double their money overnight.

Pick one: Bill Joy or Ray Kurzweil?
Kurzweil is on the right track. Bill Joy is an opportunistic pessimist who thinks the answer to the dangers of technology is to stop progress. I think we'll take a positive and active role in determining the direction technology goes in, not just sit on the beach and have machines serve us martinis.

Martini-serving bots at the beach? Sounds kind of nice.
I hate lying on the beach - it's worse than prison for me.
- Josh McHugh (Issue 11.08 | August 2003)