Chapter 4. Can You Turn All the Buttons On?

Page 74

‘Within a decade or two, [computer scientists] believed robots would be cleaning our floors, mowing our lawns and, in general, eliminating the drudgery from our lives.’

Hans Moravec, “Rise of the Robots,” Scientific American, 23 March 2009.

The Shadow Robot Company of London manufactures hands that demonstrate the same dexterity and range of motion as their human counterparts

In 2005, Boston Dynamics revealed ‘BigDog’ – a four-legged robotic packhorse that can carry 340 pounds and traverse tricky terrain with apparent ease.

Robotic vision systems can now capture images in resolutions that rival the human eye.

“National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, JVC Develop 8-megapixel High-resolution Robotics Technology,” JCN Network website.

Page 77

“Isaac Asimov said that when he started writing about robots, the idea that robots were going to take over the world was the only story in town. Nobody wants to hear otherwise. I used to find when newspaper reporters called me and I said I didn’t believe [that] AI or robots would take over the world, they would say “thank you very much,” hang up and never report my comments.”

Nic Fleming, “Why AI Is a Dangerous Dream,” New Scientist, 1 Sept. 2009.

Page 82

The question of comparing human and artificial intelligences was addressed by computer science genius Edsger Dijkstra, who said that the question “is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim”

Edsger W. Dijkstra, “The Threats to Computing Science,” lecture presented to the ACM 1984 South Central Regional Conference, Nov. 16-18, Austin, Texas.

Page 83

The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard

Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (London, UK: Penguin Books, new ed., 2003).

Brooks argues that “simple things to do with perception and mobility [are] a necessary basis for higher-level intellect.”

Rodney Brooks, “Intelligence Without Reason,” prepared for Computers and Thought, International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, April 1991.

Page 88

In a landmark and it turns out startlingly prescient paper, written in 1950 (in which the fi rst line was aptly, “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’ ”), the great, tragic war-shortening Alan Turing wrote, “Instead of trying to produce a program to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one would obtain the adult brain.”

Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind 59:433-60.

Page 89

Hans Moravec wondered “what processing rate would be necessary to yield performance on par with the human brain?” and came up with the gargantuan figure of one hundred trillion instructions per second.

Hans Moravec, “Rise of the Robots.” Scientific American, March 2009.

Page 90

“It is not impossible to build a brain, and we can do it in ten years.” He’s even joked (or not, depending on how seriously you take the claim) he’ll bring the result to talk at conferences.

“Henry Markram Builds a Brain in a Supercomputer,” TEDGlobal website, 2009. Full talk available at

At the 2009 Science Beyond Fiction event in Prague, Markram told his audience that he believes “the ethereal ‘emergent properties’ that characterize human thought will, step by step, make themselves apparent.”

Surfdaddy Orca, “Blue Brain in a Virtual Body,” H+ Magazine, 12 May 2009.

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