[EconTalk] Melanie Mitchell on Artificial Intelligence

Melanie Mitchell on Artificial Intelligence

06/01/2020 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=91990141
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2020/Mitchellartificialintelligence.mp3

Computer Scientist and author Melanie Mitchell of Portland State University and the Santa Fe Institute talks about her book Artificial Intelligence with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Mitchell explains where we are today in the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and where we might be going. Despite the hype and excitement surrounding AI, Mitchell argues that much of what is called “learning” and “intelligence” when done by machines is not analogous to human capabilities. The capabilities of machines are highly limited to explicit, narrow tasks with little transfer to similar but different challenges. Along the way, Mitchell explains some of the techniques used in AI and how progress has been made in many areas.

Listen date: mid February 2020


  • Man, I barely remember anything from this episode, but going through the transcript, I’m recalling how interesting it was.
  • The coolest thing is that it starts of with a description of Hofstadter of Goedel Escher Bach fame having popularised AI, been Melanie Mitchell’s prof, and now being terrified of AI. Which isn’t relevant to anything, but is a fascinating story in and of itself.
  • “Although we rejoiced in both that the programs that we built–we would rejoice in both their creativity and their dumbness, because their dumbness really showed how challenging the problem was.”
  • ” I think most people who are actually serious AI researchers roll their eyes when they hear about that kind of thing and they say you know, ‘You know, first of all, Kurzweil’s reasoning all has to do with his idea of exponential growth–that we have Moore’s Law which says that computers are getting exponentially smaller and exponentially more powerful. But for one thing, software does not show an exponential trend in any way that you want; and software is where AI is sort of at right now.'”
  • Russ Roberts getting into the Kurzweil trolling with “He doesn’t even use decimal points” is hilarious.
  • I learned that a lot of photo labeling for neural network training in image recognition is done by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which as the guests pointed out, is extremely meta.
  • TIL: “Weizenbaum was horrified, and in fact he became an activist, an anti-AI activist, because of the way that people interacted with this program.” (Weizenbaum being the guy who created ELIZA.)
  • I kept thinking of Anathem and The Diamond Age, and about how Melanie Mitchell is coming to similar conclusions but with radically different reasoning.
  • Beautiful quote (by Geoffrey Jefferson) that’s brought up in the program: “Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain–that is, not only write it but know that it had written it. No mechanism could feel (and not merely artificially signal, an easy contrivance), pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants.”
  • Thought I just had: a psychopath who fakes being normal is passing the Turing Test in a way.


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