The Null Device

Artificial Flight and Other Myths

Artificial Flight and Other Myths (a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds), a satire of arguments against the possibility of strong artificial intelligence:
Current A.F. is limited to unpowered gliding; a technical marvel, but nowhere near the sophistication of a bird. Gliding simplifies our lives, and no bird (including myself) would discourage advancing this field, but it is a far cry from synthesizing the millions of cells within the wing alone to achieve Strong A.F. Strong A.F., as it is defined by researchers, is any artificial flier that is capable of passing the Tern Test (developed by A.F. pioneer Alan Tern), which involves convincing an average bird that the artificial flier is in fact a flying bird.
There are religious birds who believe God made Bird in His own image, and while I do not share in most of these beliefs, I do think there’s something to be said about the motivation behind creating Strong A.F. Perhaps, as we are the only creatures on Earth capable of flight, we want to push forward past our current capabilities, perhaps even augmenting our own flying capacities if independent A.F. is an impossibility. This could be interpreted as noble, but I would argue that there’s very little utility in replicating what nature has essentially perfected. Why spend millions on an artificial flier when there are so many birds out of work?

There are 3 comments on "Artificial Flight and Other Myths":

Posted by: datakid Fri Feb 19 00:58:52 2010

Hey, if it means that the research leads to a better artificial egg for vegans, I say bring it on!

Posted by: Greg Fri Feb 19 09:59:00 2010

That's a funny satire, but at bottom it's just an argument by analogy. Personally I adopt a skeptical attitude to overt or covert claims about AI, whether it be right around the corner or in the far-off future. This approach has saved me from getting involved in projects which were bound to fail, and would have saved millions of PhD-candidate-hours if was broadly adopted. My favourite example: some years ago I encountered someone pitching a project to build a program which would read research papers and deduce new knowledge. Incredibly, they got funding. It has been quietly dropped.

Posted by: acb Fri Feb 19 11:26:50 2010

Apparently the CIA was pouring billions of dollars into such AI research in the 1980s/90s; the holy grail was a "gisting" system that could summarise documents. I've no idea whether they got anything useful out of it, but it did pay for a lot of natural language processing research.