I recently came across the webpage of Jeffrey Shallit, a very impressive computer scientist, and I saw he gave a talk on a topic that can be of interest to people reading this blog: Can a Computer Think?
The slides are very documented and comprehensive, he also has a reading list associated to this talk on his website.
What I especially like about this talk is that it gives an interesting historical perspective, showing how many people had predicted that computers would achieve some task in the near future and none of these predictions were correct.
Also of interest is the quote by Hofstadter who essentially says that "intelligence" is what computers cannot do. Indeed, once computers can do something, we start to think that it does not require intelligence.
But if the definition of "thinking" is very controversial, it might be a better choice to focus on simpler things like "learning" and ask the question "Can a computer learn?".
Of course, ML researchers are exactly after that, and to some extent, it is clear that computers can learn.
However, if we try to define more precisely what learning is, there are several issues. In particular, there are at least three levels at which we can define the learning phenomenon:
- Low-level: Ability to adapt to a (changing) environment
- Medium-level: Ability to perform a task or to improve at performing a task without being taught explicitly (by practice or imitation)
- High-level: Ability to infer general laws from particular instances (induction)
The first level is somewhat "unconscious" and is something that could be said of most animals.
The second level is also something many animals can do.
The third level is more "conceptual" and seems to require some "thinking". But this is not necessarily an exclusively human ability: indeed, when a dog learns that bringing back the stick will get him a stroke, this is also some kind of induction.
I am not sure the above distinction really makes sense and it might be impossible to say which form of learning actually occurs in a specific situation.
However, computers have clearly demonstrated all of them, at least in a very simple way.