My Iraqi friend (whether he knows it or not) was on TV again tonight. God bless the man (his god or mine or whatever) because i always get an idea or two out of his broadcasts. For the record, his name is Jim Al-Khalili, and this time the show was called Shock and Awe: The History of Electricity. I can’t help but throw the man some props for his choice of show title, him being from Iraq and all, although i’m not sure if he attended the second run of Desert Storm or not.
Anyway, lately i’ve been playing around a bit more with the LIDA framework, which i’ve described in my last post. After several discussions with Ryan McCall (PhD student at U of Memphis and apparently the current primary LIDA maintainer), i’m still very hopeful about the potential of the work. But i do now, i think, have a better handle on where it stands. The framework as it is represents a good implementation of a good theory of cognition. It has at least interfaces for all of the major components, and in many cases concrete implementations of those components. It is an excellent start. Of course, there are components that are really just stubs at the moment, and other components that are very basic, and they will need work before any serious run at AGI (with LIDA) can be made. And even when such a run is made, many of the more complete components will need substantial rework, and it’s pretty much certain that the overall design of the framework will go through many iterations (which, each time, will have major implications on all of the existing components). All of which brought me to the conclusion that there is a lot of work to do. A lot. Like years. Decades even. Maybe lots of decades.
Kind of like electricity. I know that the typical AGI comparison is with human flight, but after watching only a bit of Jim’s show i wonder if electricity is a better one. Flight had all of it naysayers in the face of existential proof and all, and people wondering what the point of it all could be anyway, but after only a bit of research i think the study of electricity provides an analogy that parallels the profound scientific mysteries of the subject.
According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded recognition of something like electricity was from ancient Egyptian texts that described the “Thunderers of the Nile” – now known as electric fish – back in 2750 BC. The Egyptians either killed all the little buggers off or shrugged their shoulders and stayed out of the water, because there doesn’t seem to be much that happened on the topic for around 4.5 millennia, when William Gilbert in 1600 described the difference between the loadstone effect and rubbing a balloon on his head. If we take this as the real start of electrical research, we need only decide on when we feel we had a decent handle on the topic to determine how long the whole effort took. Maxwell’s work in 1861/62 seems like a reasonable choice except that it was only theoretical. Again, Wikipedia provides great satisfaction to me if only by its choice of words: “… the late 19th century would see the greatest progress in electrical engineering” (my emphasis).
We can then conclude that it took about 300 years to convert electrical study from research into engineering. Readers of my last post will recall that i made a big deal about the difference between treating AGI as research vs engineering. When i first started working with LIDA i had hoped that we were entering the engineering stage, but it appears my hope was premature. There is still a lot of research to do. Those who are frustrated that after over 60 years we still have little to show might take some comfort in knowing that something similarly mysterious, but relatively simple, as electricity took nearly 3 centuries for some very big-headed fellows to get their heads around.
Ray Kurzweil was most likely optimistic in predicting the existence of AGI by 2035. Which sucks, really, because i was very much looking forward to climbing into my Vanilla Sky reality simulation over being spoon fed by R2D2 prototypes in a seniors’ home.
To round off… The other reason we don’t have AGI yet? It’s really, really hard.