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#9: Erica the Robot Stars in a Film. But Really, Does She?

This is just going to be a fancier Muppets movie, Eric Holloway predicts, with a bit more electronics

Our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks has been interviewing fellow computer nerds (our Brain Trust) Jonathan Bartlett and Eric Holloway about 12 overhyped AI concepts of the year.

Lots of stuff happened and it’s the time of year for fun and entertainment! So here’s #9: Erica the Robot, from Japan, is to star in a film (filming begins in 2021):

#9 starts at about 16:58 A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. A link to the complete transcript follows the Additional Resources.

Robert J. Marks: Okay. We are counting down the Dirty Dozen hyped AI stories of 2020, and we’re at #9. In June 2020 in The Hollywood Reporter, we learned of the robot in the lead role of a $70 million scifi film. Eric, what do you make of that?

Eric Holloway: Well, first of all, I asked, why is this news? We’ve had animatronics in movies since Star Wars or the Muppet movies. This is just a fancier Muppets movie.

vs. Muppets from Space (1999)

Eric Holloway: They’re just fancy puppets. It’s like Sesame Street, but with a bit more electronics. And it’s really funny reading these articles because they go through great pains to make it sound like the AI is learning something. They’re practicing all their lines, and they’re trying really hard.

They’re trying to make it sound like a real person, when all they’re just doing is some underpaid engineer in the back is running the algorithm a couple of times on new data sets.

Robert J. Marks (pictured): One of them that was recent, recent maybe being about a year ago, was Sophia. And this was supposed to be a really, really exciting thing. And people looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, artificial intelligence.” But the robot Sophia was nothing more than the animatronic robot that synchronized their mouth movements and their facial expressions in order to communicate. The optics, which was to have it inside a human form, had nothing to do with artificial intelligence. The container of artificial intelligence often has little to do with the driving artificial intelligence itself.

Note: 2019’s AI hype countdown #10 featured Sophia: Sophia the Robot still gives interviews: “While Sophia the life-like robot was not as much of a sensation this year as last (2018’s # 4), media organizations continued to conduct mostly uncritical “interviews” with the robot. This year’s lot included a feature on NBC’s TODAY show where the news organization claims that “researchers designed Sophia to evolve, and learn from all of her human interactions.” …

“Hanson goes on to say that “you can program her [a “little Sophia” knockoff] to do what you want.” Apparently, Hanson wants you to be enamored with both sides of the coin—intelligence and programmability—but doesn’t want you to see the contradiction between the two.” (Jonathan Bartlett)

Robert J. Marks: All of the intelligence we see is due to the computer programmer asking the artificial intelligence to do something. And we might be surprised at the output. I mean, you talked about AlphaGo making the incredible move when it beat Lee Sedol, the Go champion, but that was a surprising move. But there was really no creativity there because, my goodness, that software was trained to play Go and that’s what it was doing.

And it was doing it a lot better than humans, just like calculators calculate a lot faster than we do and cars go a lot faster than we can run. It’s surprising. It’s kind of cool, but certainly it’s not creative. The creativity came from the computer programmer.

Eric Holloway (pictured): Right. And also, if you look at these AlphaGo type things and you look at what they actually do to even have to achieve that result, they go through like billions or trillions or quintillions of calculations and checks to even arrive at those results. Vastly, vastly more than any human, even over the history of humans playing Go ever do. Once you look at it more as just like brute force, trying every possibility, it doesn’t really seem so impressive anymore.

Note: Are computers that win at chess smarter than geniuses? No, and we need to look at why they can win at chess without showing even basic common sense. Generally, AI succeeds wherever the skill required to win is calculation and the territory is only a map. Not every human intellectual effort involves calculation. That’s why increases in computing power cannot solve all our problems. Computers are not creative and they do not tolerate ambiguity well. Yet success in the real world consists largely in mastering these non-computable areas. – Mind Matters News, November 27, 2020

In our countdown for the Top Twelve AI Hypes of 2020…

10: Big AI claims fail to work outside lab. A recent article in Scientific American makes clear that grand claims are often not followed up with great achievements. This problem in artificial intelligence research goes back to the 1950s and is based on refusal to grapple with built-in fundamental limits.

11: A lot of AI is as transparent as your fridge A great deal of high tech today is owned by corporations. Lack of transparency means that people trained in computer science are often not in a position to evaluate what the technology is and isn’t doing.

12: AI is going to solve all our problems soon! While the AI industry is making real progress, so, inevitably, is hype. For example, machines that work in the lab often flunk real settings.

Show Notes

Additional Resources

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#9: Erica the Robot Stars in a Film. But Really, Does She?