The Illusion of Intelligence

  • Jonathan Schaeffer


Machine Translation Good Move Cumulative Score Checker Program Skilled Driver 
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  1. 1.
    To be fair, a computer-authored book has already made the best-seller list. The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed, by Racter, appeared in 1984 (Warner Books, ISBN 0–446–38051–2). The program was created by William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter. Racter was written in the BASIC programming language on a Z80 computer with sixty-four kilobytes (no, not megabytes) of memory. Although this book was computer generated, the programmers put the story line and characters into the program and had the computer spew out the text. It produced such literary gems as, “They have love but they also have typewriters.” José Icaza, a fellow graduate student at the University of Waterloo, commented on the book, “Racter uttered grammatically perfect random English sentences, using literary sentence construction forms, proper use of idioms, good style heuristics, and so on. The program had no idea about the content of what it was writing about. Its writing had a strange quality, as if something was being said, though actually nothing!” Does that sound like the kind of book you might enjoy reading?Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    One of the popular test sets for English-French translation is the Hansard set, over one hundred years of Canadian parliamentary minutes given in both languages. A statistical analysis of this set of data produced the expected results. Politicians’ sentences tended to be over twice as long as ordinary conversational sentences, and the information content was less than half. In other words, politicians use more words to say less. We knew it all along.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Maybe the computer can be forgiven, because humans aren’t perfect translators either. When you translate “The Grapes of Wrath” (the title of John Steinbeck’s famous novel) into Japanese and then back into English, it becomes “The Raisins of Rage.” As another example, an interview with the pop singer Madonna in the Hungarian newspaper Blikk included the following humorous exchange. The Blikk questions were translated from Hungarian to English, Madonna’s responses from English to Hungarian, and then the newspaper USA Today translated the final published Hungarian version of the interview back into English for their readers (reported in Time, May 20, 1996, p. 64): “Blikk: Madonna, let’s cut towards the hunt: Are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops? Madonna: Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In America it is not considered to be mentally ill when a women advances on her prey in a discothèque setting with her hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day.” Hmm. Now I know how she generates the lyrics for her songs.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For an excellent analysis of Hal, its capabilities, and how they match the technology on January 12, 1997, Hal’s birthdate, see the readable Hal’s Legacy (David Stork (ed.), MIT Press, 1996). The book includes an interesting article by Murray Campbell (of Deep Blue fame) on Hal’s chess abilities.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Herbert Simon and Alan Newell, “Heuristic Problem Solving: The Next Advance in Operations Research,” Operations Research, 6(January, 1958): p. 10.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Joseph Weizenbaum’s book Computer Power and Human Reason (W.H. Freeman and Company, 1976) for an interesting discussion of what computers should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    “Of Ozone and Fruit Flies,” Time, October 23, 1995, p. 67.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    K. Dewdney, “A Program that Plays Checkers Can Often Stay One Jump Ahead,” Scientific American, 251, no. 1(July, 1984): pp. 14–27.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Tom Truscott, “The Duke Checkers Program,” Journal of Recreational Mathematics, 12, no. 4(1979–80): p. 243.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kevin Spraggett, Personal communication, 1989.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    One example that impressed me was the work of Thomas Anantharaman, Murray Campbell, and Feng-hsiung Hsu (of Deep Blue and Deep Thought fame). Using their idea of singular extensions, dynamically identifying forced moves, they were able to solve a classic chess problem that was thirty-five plies deep using only a nominal eightply search!Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Schaeffer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Computing ScienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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