Friday, February 16, 2007

Evolution of AI

Grey Thumb brings our attention to this article: The Evolution of AI, published in Artificial Intelligence last year.

The author accuses AI researchers of being crypto-creationists, for not putting more emphasis on evolutionary techniques in their research. While I think the author is essentially right in saying that evolutionary techniques will play an important role in the research and development of artificial intelligence, it seems to me to be merely practical tool in that field, not a relevant object of study in that context. What's interesting about AI is not the mere production of software that has intelligence-like features, but the deeper understanding this process can lead to: just what intelligence and consciousness really are, and how the human mind might work.

The problem with evolutionary techniques is they often lead to designs we can't understand, or that, on analysis, turn out to work for strange, quirky reasons.

I call that a "problem" only in that it doesn't naturally lead to a better understanding of a problem domain. If you're trying to design a tone discriminator, as in the article above, or a better antenna, it's fantastic what genetic algorithms can do for you. But in trying to understand intelligence, the project as a whole would be too large for a genetic algorithm to tackle and would lead to an unanalyzable mess. I'm not making that statement without evidence -- look at what nature has given us: our brains took billions of years to evolve, and after thousands of years of trial, error, and science we still can't reliably tweak it to cure common problems like depression and schizophrenia.

I'm sure as evolutionary techniques improve, people will use them to design components of intelligent systems, and analyze those designs to come up with theories about how they work. In fact we'll probably do a lot more of that in a lot of fields. But the only way I see evolutionary theory as being directly a part of the AI field is if it turns out that there are evolutionary processes going on within the human mind in real time -- a possibility the paper does not even discuss.

In short, he's conflating a research technique with a field of study.

1 comment:

Marceau Huxley said...

Indeed, it has been proposed that the mind works evolutionarily, such as in the theory of memetics.

It is worth noting that evolution is the only process that we know of that has ever produced anything intelligent.