November 21, 2016
What are your thoughts on the challenge of communication in the movie Arrival?
I think that the basic notion of “what do we mean by intelligence” is—it’s very hard to have an abstract definition of intelligence that goes beyond just saying it does sophisticated computation. There’s an awful lot of stuff that does sophisticated computation, my favorite example being the weather—which many people would say has a mind of its own, so to speak.
In modern times, there’s a lovely parallel between extraterrestrial communication and AI [Artificial Intelligence] communication. They’re both cases where we’re dealing with an intelligence that doesn’t have the same historical lineage that ours does.
You’ve got a neural net and it’s learned to recognize 10,000 kinds of things in the world. Cats and dogs and telephones and chairs and who knows what else. And you look inside the neural nets and it’s made all kinds of distinctions about how to describe the world [which] we can think of like descriptive words for aspects of those objects. But they’re not words that exist in our historically derived language.
In the Arrival movie, the fact that the question of greatest interest is “what is your purpose here”—that has a fascinating resonance with probably what is in many ways what is one of the most important questions for AI, which is, you built an AI, what is it supposed to do, what is its purpose supposed to be… Among the purposes we don’t want is “take over the world and get rid of the humans” type thing. But there’s a question of how do you get to the point where you can represent purpose in this kind of way that we humans think about purpose.