Thursday, April 24, 2008

AI Luminaries and their claims

This is a bit of a rant. In our weekly AI colloquium we have covered two high profile AI people, Dr. Robert Hecht-Nielsen and his Confabulation theory and Jeff Hawkins and his book On Intelligence plus his ideas around Hierarchical Temporal Memory.

Neither of the two above people are terribly famous in AI academic circles per se, but they do get some press. They are both founders of very successful business in HNC (Now FairIssac) and Palm/PalmPilot. Particularly in the case of HNC's use of AI for fraud detection in financial transactions, I am very impressed. Yet this is where it gets ugly.

If you read Hawkin's book or listen to a Youtube lecture of Dr. Hecht-Nielsen you would think these guys have invented the next great AI of the 'I have modeled the brain' variety. They both demonstrate very interesting neural network inspired architectures and basic computation. They are both complete with deep layering, feedback loops and other structures that NN people have known will work for years.

Yet both of them will just repeat similar claims that this is how the brain actually works and with this architecture real cognition is possible, even potentially trivial? Hogwash. Batshit Insanity.

These aren't my words, they were used to describe Stephen Wolfram's work on Cellular Automata and his claims that his flavor of CAs can build anything and describe all physics. He makes lots of strong claims against a theory he spend decades toiling on nearly alone.

Would Peter Norvig ever make these types of claims? I tend to think no way.

First, how can you make the claim that this architecture is really how the brain works and as such will lead to cognition or reasoning? To me that is what they are.. architectures of computation.

Where are the programs? Where is the embedded/encoded/learned method that can actually reason in some logical or nearly logical fashion? Ie chaining facts together to create derived knowledge? Picking apart disparate background statements/data to answer queries for information? How does this architecture answer the question of what are necessary and sufficient conditions to produce computerized general reasoning?

It's a massive leap of faith for me to take for granted that a neural architecture, with all it's bells and whistles, will just lead to reasoning. Doesn't it take just one counter-example of something that such an architecture and associated learning methods can not learn correctly to break the bold claims?

To me that is a central lesson of genetic algorithm theory, people for years went around insisting that the GA was a better optimizer (mousetrap) than all that had come before. They invented theories to describe it's behavior and made bold claims. Yet Wolpert and Macready come along and show the No Free Lunch theorems. It basically blew many of the bolder claims of GA superiority to hell. It has now spread into general Machine Learning as well.

I think people, particularly ones in AI with monster egos, need to exercise some humility and not make such strong claims. Didn't that type of behavior contribute to the AI Winter?

Every time I hear or read these types of claims my mind sees an image of Tom Hanks in Cast Away dancing around his fire and saying "Yes! Look what I have created! I have made fire!! I... have made fire!". The horrible irony of the scene is that he remains fundamentally lost, couldn't find his island on a map and is no closer to finding home as a result of making his fire.

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