Friday, January 11, 2013

Ray Kurzweil Takes Another Shot from the Hip

In his capacity as night news editor for CNET News, last night Steven Musil filed a story about an online interview with Ray Kurzweil in which the "father of all singularities" discussed what he would be doing at Google. The bottom line is simple enough:
We want to give computers the ability to understand the language that they're reading.
I remember when something called Cyc made the same claim and ended up giving Hubert Dreyfus yet another excuse for bashing artificial intelligence. What really raised my eyebrows, however, was the following summary statement from Musil:
Kurzweil explains that one of the chief challenges he and his team at Google face is that language is hierarchical and only mammals have the ability to understand hierarchical ideas.
I have to say that the very noun "ideas" is so vague that it is unclear whether or not this proposition is even debatable. It just happens to be something that fills column space. These days what interests me most about language are the results of brain studies that seem to indicate that the motor cortex is active in language understanding, whether we are listening to someone talking to us or reading printed text. This has at least the potential to endorse the "mind as action" proposition of James V. Wertsch. Mind you, whenever talk of the motor cortex pops up, the artificial intelligence crowd always seem to invoke Helen Keller; but, Keller had a body, even if it was more limited than ours.

My guess is that Kurzweil will take the usual what-I-know-how-to-do path in his future work at Google, ignoring, along with his colleagues, the less-traveled road of what-I-need-to-know!

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