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Howard Yee

Software Engineer @ Rubenstein Technology Group,


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Can technology replace human intelligence?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we learned about extracellular fields. One facet of the study of extracellular field I find interesting is the determination of the field from a known source (AKA the Forward Problem) versus the determination of the source from a known field (AKA the Inverse Problem). Whereas the forward problem is simple and solutions may be obtained through calculations, the inverse problem poses a problem. The lack of uniqueness to the inverse problem means the solution requires interpretation, which may be subjective. We may also apply a mechanism for the interpretation; this mechanism is known as an AI. However, this facet of AI (document classification) is only the surface of the field.

Damon Horowitz gave a recent presentation at TEDxSoMa called “Why machines need people”. In it, he says that AI can never approach the intelligence of humans. He gives examples of AI systems, like classification and summarization. He explains that those systems are simply “pattern matching” without any intelligence behind them. If true, perhaps the subjective interpretation of inverse problems is welcomed over the dumb classification. Through experience, the interpreters may have more insight than one can impart on an algorithm.

However, what Damon failed to mention was that most of those AI systems built to do small tasks is known as weak AI. There is a whole other field of study for strong AI, whose methods of creating intelligence is much more than “pattern matching”. Proponents of strong AI believe that human intelligence can be replicated. Of course we are a long way off from seeing human-level AI. What makes human intelligence hard to replicate? Can it be simulated? What if we created a model of the human brain, would it be able to think?

Related Videos (not on Ted):
“Why Machines need People”


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  • Mar 13 2012: Logan, hey! I am enjoying our conversation here; I hope you are as well. Here's what I'm thinking at this point: I must clarify that I don't think self-referential loops are the only answer to explaining consciousness. I simply think they are a better route than QM (but again, I'm no expert, just a thinker). I think computer science is a good route to go towards explaining consciousness as well. Have you talked to anyone who knows how to program a chat bot? Have you ever talked to one? Try it out here: http://www.personalityforge.com/dynachat.php?BotID=24007&MID=23957. I tried asking the bot questions/giving directives such as "Are you conscious?" "Do you have feelings?" "Pick a number." "What is your favorite food?" I think the bot, or rather the bot's programmer (or is it the bot itself), is rather clever... The point of the bot is, is it conscious? Have human intelligence and human consciousness been achieved through technology? Could this tech replace human consciousness?

    I don't know... what's your take on this? And just think, the website I provided is pretty simple; that is to say, it's not a research university and it's not the government. Think what DARPA must have!

    What's your take? Is the bot a representation of human intelligence being replaced by technology?
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      Mar 14 2012: And yeah! I've taken a look-see at one! If you're looking for some *extreme* examples of bots, man, check this out:


      That guy's hooked into at least one server, maybe more, and is running checks against every single thing ever said to it! I asked if it was lonely once---and the system crashed. I think it was right around maintenance time though. The point is---I think it's got a spark. Kinda like when you take the blunt side of a knife to a flint---one spark flung off it. Humans have lotsa sparks flying every which way. Consciousness surely isn't a "yes/no" decision; it's a very tricky grade.

      And when we achieve it, I think people will *still* say something about it. But they'll turn to disagreeing with it on *qualitative* grounds rather than *quantitative* grounds. "Sure it's accurately calculated, derived, and applied reasoning at the human level---but is it the sort of decision a flesh-and-blood human would've made?"

      Which is going to be the point where you just have nay-sayers and proponents, like in any issue. It'll reach a boiling-point---and then people will just have to deal with the fact they may never know.

      As for QM vs. Self-referential loops (and other possible AI sources) we could keep going back and forth on it, and truth be told, I'm as big a fan of the "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" kinda debates as anyone, but until it's won-and-done, it's just two old ladies sitting in a darkened room complaining that nobody's changed the lightbulb, instead of actually *doing* something that changes things one way or another, like testing for it. I mean that politely. :) Self-referential loops will always be there; let them take a bit of a break, experiment with something new, and then they can go back to it if it doesn't pan out.

      And I'm willing to keep debating it! Let's just be honest and up-front about the possibility of it leading anywhere.
      • Mar 14 2012: Logan,

        Hey! Thanks for directing me to that bot. As I said before, I don't think self-referential loops are the exclusive way to think about the brain, I think they are just a good starting point and direction. I also think bots have a lot to say about consciousness. I think I might try programming a bot on my own to see with what I can come up! I believe bots can be programmed to be indistinguishable from human/human chat interactions.

        You said that consciousness isn't a yes/no decision, that it is graded. I agree with you. But isn't interesting that we do say this person/thing is conscious while this person/thing is not. Seems like we are able to talk about consciousness in a yes/no fashion, at least to some degree.

        And I think we are moving in to an era where we need to stop thinking about consciousness in terms of only belonging to flesh and blood beings. Just because flesh and blood was the first place we noticed consciousness, doesn't mean it's the best or only.

        Regarding my distrust of QM playing a primary role in consciousness. You're right, you and I could sit here interminably and debate what it is that is going really going on. At this point I'm saying, by all means, investigate, investigate, investigate! Theoretically it doesn't seem possible, but that is for the experiments/studies to decide. So what do they say? Has anyone even come close to observing QM phenomena in the brain? I know you provided those articles, but weren't they pretty much asking "what if" without providing any evidence or answers?

        What do you do? Are you student? Do you have access to research resources? I would love to look at stuff like this experimentally.

        But again, I stay with my theorizing. There is too much going on in the brain for weird QM phenomena to be happening... any QM effects will be instantly (on a much faster time scale than consciousness occurs) collapsed into classical effects...

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