Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Selected Quotes from "The Dark Ages of AI Panel Discussion"

In 1984, a panel at the AAAI conference discussed whether the field was approaching an "AI Winter". Mitch Waldrop wrote a transcript of the discussion, and much of it reads exactly like something written 35 years into the future.

Below are some quotes from the transcript that I found impressive, as they describe the feelings of many an AI researcher today and how the public views AI, despite all the advances in computing and software since 1984. 👇

"People make essentially no distinction between computers, broadly defined, and Artificial Intelligence... as far as they're concerned, there is no difference; they're just worried about the impact of very capable, smart computers" - Mitch Waldrop

"The computer is not only a mythic emblem for this bright, high-technology future, it's a mythic symbol for much of the anxiety that people have about their own society." - Mitch Waldrop

"A second anxiety, what you might call the 'Frankenstein Anxiety', is the fear of being replaced, of becoming superfluous..." - Mitch Waldrop

"Modern Times Anxiety: People becoming somehow, because of computers, just a cog in the vast, faceless machine; the strong sense of helplessness, that we really have no control over our lives" - Mitch Waldrop

"The problem is not a matter of imminent deadlines or lack of space or lack of time... the real problem is that what reporters see as real issues in the world are very different from what the AI community sees as real issues." - Mitch Waldrop

"If we expect physicists to be concerned about arms control and chemists to be concerned about toxic waste, it's probably reasonble to expect AI people to be concerned about the human impact of these technologies" - Mitch Waldrop

"It [Doomsday] is already here. There is no content in this conference" - Bob Wilensky

"What I heard was that only completed scientific work was going to be accepted. This is a horrible concept - no new unformed ideas, no incremental work building on previous work" - Roger Schank

"When I first got into this field twenty years ago, I used to explain to people what I did, and they would already say, 'you mean computers can't do that already?' They'll always believe that." - Roger Schank

"Big business has a very serious role in this country. Among other things, they get to determine what's 'in' and what's 'out' in the government." - Roger Schank

"I got scared when big business started getting into this - Schlumberger, Xerox, HP, Texas Instruments, GTE, Amico, Exxcon, they were all making investments - they all have AI groups. And you find out that, thoise people weren't trained in AI." - Roger Schank

"It's easier to go into a startup... [or] a big company... than to go into a university and try to organize an AI lab, which is just as hard to do now as it ever was. But if we don't do that, we will find that we are in the 'Dark Ages' of AI"  - Roger Schank

"The first [message] is incumbent upon AI because we have promised so much, to produce. We must produce working systems. Some of you must devote yourselves to doing that. It is also the case that some of you had better commit to doing science."  - Roger Schank

"If it turns out that our AI conference isn't the place to discuss science, then we better start finding a place where we can discuss science, because this show for all the venture capitalists is very nice."  - Roger Schank

"the notion of cognition as computation is going to have extraordinary importance to the philosophy and psychology of the next generation. And for well or ill, this notion has affected some of the deepest aspects of our self-image." - B. Chandrasekaran

"symbol-level theories, which may even be right, are being mistaken for knowledge-level theories"  - B. Chandrasekaran

"My hope is that AI will evolve more like biotech in the sense that certain technologies will be spun off, and researchers will remain and extremely interesting progress will be made"  - B. Chandrasekaran

"I have encountered people who have a science fiction view of the world and think that computers now can do just about anything... these people have a feeling that computers can do wonderful things, but if you ask them how exactly could an AI program help in work, they don't have the sense that within a week or two they could be replaced or that computers can come in and do a much better job than they do in work." - John McDermott

"There have been a number of technologies that have run into dead ends, like dirigibles and external combustion engines. And there have been other ones, like television, and in fact, the telephone system itself, which took between twenty and forty years to go from being laboratory possibilities to actual commercial successes. Do you really think that IA is going to become a commercial success in the next 10-15 years?" - Audience member

"They [lay people] seem to have a vague idea that great things can happen, have sublime confidence... but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, they tend to be pretty unimaginative and have pretty low expectations as to what can be done." - Mitch Waldrop

"It seems that academic AI people tend to blame everyone but themselves when it comes to problems of AI in terms of relationship to the general society." - Audience member