AI — A term of the past?

Artificial intelligence (AI), has been a controversial topic for decades. Within the past decade, consumer electronics have become powerful enough to put AI in a wide variety of devices, from your cellphone to your TV. There are many positives and negatives of AI worth discussing, but today I will be advocating for a change of terminology. My personal recommendation for a replacement for the term AI is Turing Machine Intelligence, or TMI for short.

Alan Turing is widely considered the father of modern computer science and AI. He formalized the conception of a Turing Machine. A Turing Machine is essentially a mathematical specification of what we consider a computer. He also created what we call the Turing test, designed to be a benchmark for what we call AI.

An in depth understanding of a Turing machine requires some knowledge of mathematics, but fortunately for us, a few decades later, John Searle (a philosopher!) put forth a thought experiment known as the Chinese room argument. This is essentially a specific implementation of the Turing Test and a Turing Machine, designed to get at the nature of consciousness. His thought experiment, in essence, is as follows: Suppose you are locked in a room, and you do not know any Chinese. Then, you are given some Chinese writing — which you can not understand. After this, you are given more Chinese writing, and rules (in English) to correlate the sets of Chinese writing. Finally, you are given a third set with English instructions which let you correlate them into a new set of Chinese writing. You don’t know this, but the first set is referred to as a “script,” the second a “story” and the third “questions.” The new set you make are the “answers to the question.”

The English you were given was called “the program.” You, in this scenario, were a computer. You never understood the Chinese but (assuming you didn’t make any mistakes) you gave the correct output. Not only that, but no one who reads your output would have known you do not speak a word of Chinese. Searle puts it eloquently: “As far as the Chinese is concerned, I simply behave like a computer; I perform computational operations on formally specified elements. For the purposes of the Chinese, I am simply an instantiation of the computer program.”

There is no cell phone, no TV, no PC, no laptop here — but Searle has crafted a human computer. Replace Chinese translation with the code for an AI program, and Searle has demonstrated that anything achievable by modern AI is achievable by a human as well (although the human would likely be much slower).

This shows that the behavior of AI is a subset of human behavior. Unless you define a human being as artificial or actions which a human can undertake perfectly as artificial, then casting what we call AI as artificial in any way whatsoever is, at best an under-conceptualized vocabulary decision and at worst a reduction of both humanity and the machines we are building.

I am not tied to an alternative, but I do believe honoring Turing and his work in this area by tying his name to his conception is an acceptable substitute. Additionally, the best time to use a computer, as is the case in the Chinese room experiment, is when there is too much information. As such, Turing Machine Intelligence, or TMI, would be an adequate replacement for our dated and flawed usage of Artificial Intelligence.

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