Thursday, January 8, 2009

Welcome to Machine Understanding

I have been interested in the idea of intelligent, understanding, conscious machines (computers and robots) since I was a child. How could a fan of science fiction books and movies not be? At some point I started wondering how the human mind itself could be intelligent, understanding, and conscious. During my life I have periodically returned to that theme.

A relatively recent wake-up call for me was On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. I read the book last year and I am re-reading it now. So most of these early blog entries are inspired by statements from the book. I am more than half-way through the book, well into the nuts-and-bolts of Chapter 6, so I will probably both comment on what I am reading and go back to various passages in the front half of the book.

A few years ago my article Indexing Books: Lessons in Language Computations was published by the Key Words, the Bulletin of the American Society for Indexing. I don't want to discourage you from reading the article, but let me sum it up: if a machine can't read with comprehension, it can't create a high-quality index for a text. Most people think using a computer to generate a good index of a text should be an easy accomplishment.

I chose the term "machine understanding" over AI, artificial intelligence, because I agree with Jeff that the AI field has mainly been a failure. Perhaps I should have called it "human understanding," since we don't really have a good understanding of why humans can understand things, exhibit intelligence, and are conscious.

This blog is mainly for me to keep a record of my thoughts, but if anyone else stumbles across it I hope I can introduce them to the ideas of people who work in this fascinating field.

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