The Thinking Machine

Posted on 07-11-2011

In 1968, Philip K. Dick wrote the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, about a future where a bounty hunter is tracking a group of androids. The book dealt with themes of identity and artificial intelligence, and was later developed into the movie Blade Runner. The question this article asks is: can machines actually learn, and how closely does this resemble our own intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., has been a long-running stale of science fiction, and that is something of an understatement. The notion of computers that possess the capacity to learn and act on independent thought is a source of both wonder and fear – wonder at the notion of a new, truly intelligent artificial lifeform, and fear at the idea of such intelligence being alien to our own, or even hostile. Would such intelligences hold the same values as our own? Would such an intelligence harbour such qualities as empathy, concepts such as love?

Such points, of course, become moot if such a concept is not feasible, remaining the stuff of science fiction. Is there any veracity to such ideas? Is artificial intelligence on such a level possible?

Concepts such as true intelligence and reasoning are open to debate – when does the simulation of such processes truly qualify as such? To understand the question better, we must look at the way our brains learn and process information, and compare it to possible A.I. systems.

Of course, this becomes a circular reasoning process – we aim to create intelligence within the confines of our own intelligence, as we find it difficult to conceive of any way of learning or thinking but our own! This is part of the reason that distance learning is so popular – we enjoy and understand the way we like to learn, as opposed to learning using someone else’s methods, and many find it far more natural than trying to think within someone else’s framework.

As a result, the more successful A.I.s we create will likely approximate our own minds, and likely be structured in a similar fashion, telling us as much about the way our own minds work.

As to how close we are to achieving such lofty goals – we are not in danger of the machines taking over just yet, but early success has been made with specific tasks. We have robots that can react to a range of stimuli, navigate obstacles and even play ping-pong, to name but a few.

While there is still a wide variety of schools of thought in how to approach the problem and which model to adopt when producing such intelligence, it is hard to doubt that one day machines will be capable of independent, creative thought. As to the question of whether this will be true thought, or merely a simulation… by then it may be very difficult to tell the difference!


  • AstralW
    15-02-2013 20:36:48
    Great blog!
  • Daniela
    05-01-2013 08:49:52
    Hhmm interesting in deed
  • Patrycja Stepniewska
    06-12-2012 11:22:52
    very interesting blog ;-)
  • rebecca bath
    20-11-2012 15:23:48
    scary but interesting stuff, makes you think about things like this. very good points on this article
  • rebecca bath
    16-11-2012 17:35:06
    sounds very interesting!
  • rebecca bath
    09-11-2012 10:22:58
    very interesting article, it would be great to have robots about to do everything for you lol
  • Jodie
    10-07-2012 10:30:06
    A fascinating post! Whilst I am drawn to the idea of AI I have to believe that the essence of humanity can not be recreated in an artificial form...things could become very dangerous for us humans if that does become the case!!
  • Vivi Anderson
    31-03-2012 14:42:58
    i think come time robots will be produced to effectivly do what humans do. however having looked at concepts that produce robots with emotions. Nothing will replace the emotions and hearts of humans
  • Vivi Anderson
    12-03-2012 18:08:28
    Thought provoking indeed,The article has some highly interesting points on AI.and definatly gives food for thought
  • Mike Anderson
    28-02-2012 12:22:10
    Very interesting and certainly raises some valid points
  • mike anderson
    27-02-2012 17:30:59
    i always think its best to keep an open mind on many things, this was a very interesting article and certainly makes you think
  • Steven Nicol
    02-02-2012 15:19:42
    It would be nice if there was a machine that would learn for me sometimes! haha, very interessting post
  • Tom Carter
    10-01-2012 12:35:20
    Very interesting post
  • Kelly-anne tomlinson-docherty
    09-01-2012 21:43:47
    got to say; we already have minor forms of A.I - it began with the chess playing computer and now we have siri - men in japan have been designing companion bots and look to make them "more human" in essence though, nothing can replace humanity.
  • Kizzi Keast
    02-01-2012 22:25:22
    I find the whole area of A.Is incredibly interesting and can only wish that I had the right kind of knowledge to really explore them. In response to Melissa's comment above, if we assume that we can create AIs to match our own patterns of thinking then I don't see why we couldn't create some basic form of emotional response. But, I guess it would have to be strictly coded and so you wouldn't get the randomness or spontaneity of human emotional response. Conversely, the future is a mystery and I think anything could be possible!
  • Renee Collette
    01-01-2012 08:53:51
    I love the possibilities that artificial intelligence brings. Look at the technologies today. Back when I was younger, I never thought I could just talk to the computer and have it dictate what I said. Spell check is amazing! Every day, technology gets more and more advanced. It is sad though, with the new Kindle and E-readers, books are becoming more obsolete and soon books will become a thing of the past. I am already feeling the effects of that. I hate the fact that soon there probably won't be libraries and book stores will become no more.
  • Melissa Phillips
    13-12-2011 13:41:41
    All very scary stuff, I'm wondering though, will they ever create robots with the capabilities of human emotions and empathy? Though saying that some humans lack empathy and emotions themselves....interesting....

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