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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

Artificial Intelligence: Embryonic

So, this is my third column delving into what I believe is the over-hyped and often misunderstood subject of artificial intelligence (AI).

It’s clever programming and smart technology

Firstly, I’ll briefly paraphrase what I mentioned in my previous posts and, that is, what we understand today as AI is nothing more than clever programming and smart technology. (You can read more in “Artificial intelligence: I think therefore I am?”) In my first post, I suggested that engineers have developed software and devised hardware to alleviate the mundaneness of routine activities, such as on the factory floor; created smart sensors to determine the best time to plant seeds and harvest and, of course, we have a number of sensors that can predict weather patterns; there are also engineers who have developed technology that can assess images of patients better than physicians when determining breast cancer, for example.

As a former software engineer, I would similarly develop algorithms and functions that would seek patterns in data where, based on the data processed, I would define expected behaviors, outcomes and actions – this is not “intelligence” – it’s just clever programming and smart technology.

How do we create an intelligent entity?

In my second column, I suggested that if we analogize the constitution of a robot or humanoid with the separation of the mind and body – similar to the ideology conjectured by Cartesianism encompassing both René Descartes and the Scottish philosopher George Campbell’s perspectives, then we may use this as a template, of sorts, to ultimately create a true embodiment of an intelligent entity. (You can read more on this aspect in “Artificial intelligence: the transcendence effect”). I even touched upon current research that’s looking at the possibility of “uploading” our consciousness to a machine or to the cloud, which I think is just folly.

In this month’s post, I want to take my supposition one step further. I want to tackle how we might create such an intelligent entity – an entity that can reason, rationalize, assert itself and question its own existence – following the rationale provided by Cartesianism, namely “Dualism.”

The brain versus the mind

In creating an intelligent entity, I suggest using Dualism as a template, where we separate both the mind and body. The body comprises the synthetics and mechanical gubbins that would, in turn, allow the humanoid to touch, sense, see, stand, walk, run and so on. There is still much work to do to realize the fluidity achieved with humans and refining and perfecting such technology is an ongoing process.

The brain obviously plays a major role in managing our body and has the responsibility to process sensory information, maintain blood pressure and circulation; regulate our breathing and maintain hormone balance – to name just a smidgen of its functions. The brain has several significant components such as the cerebrum, which comprises the frontal, parietal, temporal and the occipital lobes, where each is further broken down into sub-functional components further granulizing purpose and responsibility.

The “computational” human

The cerebellum, which is located at the back of the brain sitting beneath the occipital lobes, has the responsibility for coordinating our motor skills, such as balance and posture and provides the dexterity of movement that makes us so unique. And, lastly, we have the diencephalon and brain stem, which comprise further functional tasks – alas, I can only provide a microscopic snapshot here of the brain’s overall functional responsibility. 

Admittedly, I have scratched a very small surface area of what the brain does and is capable of, but I mention it here, since I would like to explore how we might begin to create our full artificial intelligent entity. We can use the anatomical structures within the brain as a starting point to allow us to develop similar components within our “computational” humanoid; for example, the equivalent cerebellum within our humanoid would have similar functional processes, in turn, providing, movement, posture and dexterity of movement. Likewise, the artificial occipital lobe would be used to process how objects are perceived and would operate in conjunction with the cerebellum to coordinate movement in accordance with its surroundings. 

Artificial intelligence, embryonic 

Many philosophers, scientists and academics have authored papers, books and have theorized on the parallels between the human brain and computerized functionality. One such theorist was Jean Piaget who, before computers were even developed, likened a child’s cognitive development as being a series of simple initial processes managed by the brain’s cognitive constructs. Jerry Fodor expanded upon this theory in the 1970s and even further in his 1983 book, Modularity of Mind. Fodor believes that “each module of the brain is like a special-purpose computer with a proprietary database.” He fixates on the internal processing of the brain’s modules to create the whole human, with specific modules being innately selected to receive certain data.  

This research has been at our fingertips for decades and yet it’s never had more resonance than it does today. So, I want to consider the possibility of plagiarizing nature to create true artificial intelligence in an “embryonic” form. It’s what I have termed “artificial intelligence embryonic” (or AIe). An intelligence that can mimic human cognitive development to evolve, learn and adapt just like you and I; moreover, any technology must have the capacity to permit it to expand and evolve its knowledge.

Until next time …

No doubt we have a long way to travel in terms of research and development and, as I often mention, I don’t see an AIe being successfully created in my lifetime, although I’d relish the challenge to be proved wrong! The reality of where we are right now tells me that we require increasingly clever programming coupled with evolving smart technology to realize the elusive possibility of an AIe. Yes, we are going to have to wait a few decades for our current technology to move forward to sufficiently witness AIe.

So, this is where your “AI psychologist” Dr. G signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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