AI’s goal may not be intelligence anymore.

AI's goal may not be intelligence anymore.

The Changing Focus of Artificial Intelligence


AI has been rapidly finding industrial applications, such as the use of large language models to automate enterprise IT. Those applications may make the question of actual intelligence moot.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come a long way since the days of British mathematician Alan Turing’s question, “Can machines think?” For generations, scientists have strived to achieve “true” or “human” intelligence, but today, AI is reaching new heights in its industrial applications, making the concept of intelligence less relevant.

Over the past 66 years, AI has evolved significantly, thanks to advancements like Google’s AlphaFold and OpenAI’s GPT-3. These programs, regardless of their categorization as “intelligent,” have proven to be immensely valuable in industries. AlphaFold’s ability to predict protein folding has excited the biology community, while GPT-3 has become a powerful tool for automating business tasks such as responding to queries without human intervention.

The focus of industrial AI has shifted from intelligence to tangible achievements. This pragmatic approach, driven by the semiconductor industry, led by Nvidia, has outstripped the obsession with intelligence. Achievements in industrial AI have overshadowed the question of true intelligence, as practitioners prioritize smooth operations over philosophical inquiries.

While a handful of thinkers still ponder the nature of genuine intelligence, more people in the field are embracing the practical utility of AI, setting aside its limitations. Engineers like Yann LeCun, the chief AI scientist at Meta, emphasize the need for “true” intelligence to avoid brittleness in AI programs. However, the majority of industrial AI professionals simply want things to run smoothly, without dwelling on the philosophical implications.

Yann LeCun and Gary Marcus

The practical mindset is reinforced as AI becomes more accessible to data scientists, self-driving car engineers, and other professionals who do not engage with the fundamental questions of AI research. The dichotomy between practicality and profoundness is embodied by Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of DeepMind. Hassabis acknowledges the limitations of many AI programs but still appreciates their specific capabilities, like the improvements in linear algebra achieved by DeepMind.

The field of AI is experiencing a shift in attitude, where achievements are no longer met with skepticism but with casual ascriptions of intelligence. As the sincere pursuit of intelligence wanes, the rhetoric of intelligence expands, serving other agendas. The empty rhetoric of intelligence allows for sensational claims, like the weaponization of AI and the creation of personalized propaganda tools, which are exaggerated and distract from the nuanced opinions of experts.

In this changing landscape, the focus on intelligence may become less relevant. As AI continues to deliver practical results in biology, physics, business, logistics, marketing, and warfare, society may become comfortable with AI’s capabilities, leading to fewer people questioning its intelligence. The direction of AI is increasingly oriented toward achieving goals rather than debating abstract notions of intelligence.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing anticipated this shift, believing that as society progresses, words and general opinion will evolve to accept that machines can think. Turing’s vision is becoming a reality as AI integrates into our lives, bringing tangible benefits. As AI increasingly gets things done, the question of intelligence may become obsolete, replaced by a focus on results and the incredible potential for AI in our rapidly changing world.

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