This is how a mechanical binary counter works pic.twitter.com/YuswDTFZoX
— How Things Work (@ThingsWork) October 13, 2018
If you can’t see the tweet above, click here.
Practitioners of Strong AI believe that if we string enough of these ping-pong (or marble) machines together, rationality will emerge. By rationality, I mean intellect and will.
No, seriously. They do. This is not a jest!
Of course, the little ball movers have to be in a particular order, and be supplied with energy. The balls don’t get loaded into the hopper by themselves. But, in principle, since a contraption like this can be built, it is then a computer, which can (they say) be programmed to develop rationality. Strong AI.
Why they say this and why it won’t work is covered in three articles, starting with this one (the other two are linked within). So I won’t repeat any of it here.
That’s how they are wrong. But why might they be wrong, or on the wrong track? That’s what I’m curious about here.
There is nothing mysterious about little balls sliding down ramps. And so it doesn’t seem like a mysterious power like rationality can develop from a huge ball-sliding machine. But electricity, particularly in its quantum aspects, is strange and wondrous. It is even magical, which prompts, we might guess, the magical thinking that curve-fitting algorithms can think because they can carry on operations fast via shifting electrons (or whatever).
We can’t see electrons (etc.) tunneling and doing their things, which makes it easier to suppose that they can get away with creating intellects. Hey, they might be up to anything down there! We can see dumb little balls sliding down stupid inclined planes. They can’t possibly do anything extra.
This is, as should be clear, a psychological argument. It presupposes the philosophical one provided in the links, that no AI algorithm is ever going to reach rationality. That being so, we have to ask why people think it will.
One reason is progress. We’re cleverer now than a century ago at making gadgets. So, it is argued, we’ll eventually be clever enough to build a rational being. Out of some substance, it follows. A substance which is usually thought to be formed from silicon and wire. But it could easily (in our thought experiment) be made from ramps and balls, and pulleys, and maybe a wheel rotating in a stream.
Yet it seems absurd that a created rational being can be constructed from ping pong balls. Since it should be able to do this if the goals of strong AI are possible, then we have to ask ourselves why it seems absurd. It’s because we can’t think of a way sliding ping pong balls can make rationality out their movement. In this, we are correct.
But since these slippery balls are a computer, it must follow that we cannot extract rationality out of any computer.