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Computers may be becoming increasingly more powerful in terms of calculations per second,29 and able to perform tasks demanding increasingly intricate levels of knowledge, but they are still a long way from doing what a human baby can do without even thinking. When was the last time you saw a computer giggle at a funny face? The Moravec paradox The inability of computers to perform basic human functions has been succinctly defined by AI researcher Hans Moravec as a paradox. He writes: ‘… it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence test or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility’.30 Although computational methods can reproduce high-level reasoning – as demonstrated in the case of expert systems – research in robotics has shown that sensorimotor skills remain a huge challenge.
We saw how the discovery that symbols can be used to construct logical operations led to the development of computer languages, and those languages were then used to represent knowledge about the world. Knowledge about the real world is sine qua non for furnishing computers with intelligence. Alas, the Moravec paradox illustrates the failure of this approach. The best that the most common home robot can hope to achieve today, after decades of robotics research, is to clean your floor – as long as you do not ask it to climb the stairs. This means that there are many types of knowledge that cannot be adequately represented with symbolic logic.
And that is because when something is unquantifiable it cannot be operated upon in any mathematical or logical way. Our moral decisions are therefore not logical. A purely logical being would have an issue understanding another being motivated by moral values – a fact amusingly illustrated by the comic dialogue Mr Spock and Dr McCoy often have in the original Star Trek series. The Moravec paradox, creativity and hard choices demonstrate that the most essential aspects of being human remain beyond logical representation. This should give pause to anyone claiming that computers based on current technology will surpass human intelligence by 2030, or indeed ever. The American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, one of the harshest critics of AI, claims that human intelligence mostly depends on unconscious instincts rather than conscious symbolic manipulation, and therefore cannot be captured in formal rules.35 Modern neuroscience has vindicated Dreyfus.