Thursday, 13 December 2012

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Prompted by the discussion at a presentation I gave yesterday on intelligent legal technology (titlend Älykäs oikeusteknologia, ie. in Finnish, for once) I guess I feel the need to export a part of the neural network that subsequently emerged in the form of a blog post. I was asked to define artificial intelligence, and since I refused to provide a definition, I was asked again. And again. So even if providing such a definition is quite irrelevant as I don’t research legal AI in general (in which case the delineation between AI and non-AI might be of interest) but rather some specific questions (modelling vagueness and uncertainty in law) which without a question are AI & law questions, here, for explanatory rather than definitive use, with no warranties for fitness for any particular purpose, yadda yadda yadda, are my two cents:

Artificial Intelligence is the cross-disciplinary enterprise of trying to do things with a computer which when done by people are said to require intelligence and which computers cannot (yet) do. (The careful reader may notice a certain degree of isomorphism with a popular definition within the extended cognition framework...)

(And comparison shoppers, here is Wikipedia’s current version: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence of machines and robots and the branch of computer science that aims to create it.”)

So: Consistently with the bottom-up approach to AI I like to advocate in general, I don’t think allusions to the Turing test or the Singularity or whatever are all that interesting, as far as actual progress is concerned, the cognitive arts advance through innovations which are very small increments from the perspective of AI as a whole but can be quite dramatic for the topical discipline in question.

I do think that the trying (or aim[ing] to create) is an important part of what makes AI AI. Doing arithmetics also requires intelligence but has never been a part of AI since computers could do (and indeed were built to do) it properly from the beginning. And so on the way from notrespondingstilltrying to commercial viability, AI projects start being called computational whatever or whatever technology (hence legal technology). Of course the boundaries are vague and the whole boxological excercise of little use in anything other than turf-wars in academia.

And the fact that the definition refers to human intelligence just serves to illustrate the futility and question-beggitude of definitions for one simple reason: The psychological understanding of human intelligence just adds even more layers of complexity. For example, IQ tests cannot possibly measure human intelligence per se and in general. What they measure instead is a specific indicator known as the g factor (or general intelligence), which has been shown to correlate (reasonably) well with the more specific intelligent abilities.

Even if working on definitions can occasionally serve an useful purpose, personally I think in most cases the more expedient alternative is to follow Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.” For historical reasons, jurisprudence in Finland still has a particular affinity for concepts and definitions not really seen elsewhere to the same degree. I’m planning to address this issue in extenso at some point with the title Begriffsjurisprudenz 2.0. (Spoiler alert: may also offend ontologists.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, I've enjoyed reading this post.

    It raises some points I've been addressing here

    Being a civil lawyer, I was born and raised into that kind of mentality that dangerously tends toward Academic legal definitions and never-ending speculations (what's a contract, a tort, ownership etc..).
    It's very difficult to reach agreement on a definition, whereas it's much more interesting and fruitful to see what people make of that thing in everyday life.
    Everyone knew what's a contract long before someone created definitions for it. Potter Stewart got it right, "I know it when I see it", that's it.

    So I'm very curious to read your follow up post about definitions in Jurisprudence.
    The fact that ontologists could be offended makes the whole thing even more interesting.