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Robot standing holding a pencil on notebook,retro vintage style
Robot standing holding a pencil on notebook,retro vintage style

The Computer Is Not an Idea Machine, It’s a Powerful Pencil

Robert J. Marks talks to Pastor Greg Young of Chosen Generation about his new book, Non-Computable You

Recently, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks was a featured guest on Pastor Greg Young’s Chosen Generation Radio, in regard to his new book Non-Computable You: What You Do That Artificial Intelligence Never Will (Discovery Institute Press, 2022) .

The nationally syndicated talk show on USA Radio networks, which can be found on stations including KTRB in San Francisco, KDIS in Little Rock, and KYAH in Delta, Utah. The topic turns to artificial intelligence and patents for inventions: Here he is with Dr. Marks, discussing artificial intelligence and patents.

(The discussion started out with talk of beards.)

Pastor Greg Young: Well, one thing that AI doesn’t have is beards.

Robert J. Marks: They don’t have beards, among a number of other human attributes.

Pastor Greg Young: Well, like conscience and things of that nature. When I put out the lead in to this, it was like, “Well, it’s like The Terminator has arrived.” Right? And I have Alexa. I think a lot of people have Alexa for lights and different things of that nature.

And so my Echo turned off the lights this morning, and I said, “Thank you,” and they said, “Thank you. You have made this AI’s day,” and I … thought about that as we were rolling into this.

A number of years ago… I can’t remember which… But I had a guest on, a pretty wealthy guy that was talking about AI and saying, “Look, people need to understand. This is the greatest threat to humanity. This is it.” PAnd this was a guy who invests in AI, has been involved in development of AI, and so on.”

Note: Stephen Hawking (1942–2018), for one, has said that: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk warns of an AI takeover.OpenAI,’s top researcher Ilya Sutskever said earlier this year that AI “may already be gaining consciousness”. Whoever Pastor Young’s guest was, he isn’t alone.

Robert J. Marks: I would argue that it is not the greatest threat. I would say that thermonuclear weapons are a greater threat. I would say that EMPs that have the capability of taking out our power grid are a bigger threat. And AI, I think, is often overestimated in what it can do, and in movies such as The Terminator. AI itself will never be sentient. It’ll never understand what it’s doing, and it will never be creative, and all of these things are required for all of these dystopian future sort of things to happen.

Note: While nuclear weapons get most of the attention, an electro-magnetic pulse attack that knows out computers and the internet could be more deadly to a modern society. See Forrest M. Mims III New weapons target your electronics, not you. Putin’s recent warning about “consequences that you have never experienced” could refer to EMPs that target the computer-based systems that keep us all alive today. Few cities are prepared for electromagnetic pulses that can knock out the grid, clean water, food, sewage, and emergency systems, leaving most folk helpless. Also by Mims: What would it take to survive an EMP attack.

Pastor Greg Young: About AI’s [owning patents]: How did we arrive at a place where it would be suggested that AI, which is actually not really… That’s not an entity. It’s not a corporation. It’s not an individual. It’s not a partnership. It doesn’t really fall within any of the guidelines or terms that we would associate with an entity with autonomy that would be entitled to that kind of protection.

Robert J. Marks: Yes. In fact, the US Patent Office has said that patents can only be issued to humans. Computers do not have the ability to be creative, and we have to define creativity:, It does something which is beyond the intent, beyond the expectations, beyond the explanation of the programmer…

Pastor Greg Young: So, how do we get to a debate then about AI and whether or not AI should in fact be granted a patent?

Robert J. Marks: It’s like looking across the room at a bouquet flowers. You don’t know if they’re real or not. And then you go up more closely, and you examine the flowers, and you say, “These leaves don’t feel right. There’s no dirt in the pot. This must be fake flowers.”

It’s the same thing with artificial intelligence. On the outset, when artificial intelligence does something, there can be the illusion of creativity, but the creativity is due to the programmer. I’m an engineer, and us engineers do things like design stuff

Design is an iterative sort of process. You come up with a prototype, “Well, that doesn’t work very well.” So, you do a little bit of changing on it, and you do another implementation, and there’s still some things wrong with it. So, you iterate. You do a search for the best solution. In fact, there’s probably stuff in your household now that was so designed. You’re familiar with Formula 409. You know why it’s called 409? Because, it took 409 tries before they got the proper chemical that worked very well. It’s the same thing with WD-40. WD-40 stands for “water displacement on the 40th attempt,” and it was done by an industrial chemist who iterated over and over and over again. So, artificial intelligence uses invariably a lot of this integration, either on the front end or the back end …

And so we can do it over and over and over again, and the faster the computer program does, the better. One of the AI issues… This is not the one in front of the Federal Court, but it was a new type of antibiotic, which was discovered using artificial intelligence, and they generated a number of different antibiotics.

How did they do it? They searched through 100 million different molecules. Now, the computer had enough knowledge within the computer program to do this search and so …

Pastor Greg Young: But it couldn’t go outside of those boundaries, creatively, and come up with an answer that was outside of the scope, beyond the information that had been put into its brain, so to speak.

Robert J. Marks: That’s exactly right. In fact, there’s an old saying, “You’re thinking outside of the box,” and that’s exactly what artificial intelligence….

Pastor Greg Young: Or, “garbage in, garbage out.”

Robert J. Marks: “Garbage in, garbage out,” that’s another one. That’s another one, exactly. So, if you’re a garbage programmer, you’re going to get garbage out, and if you’re a good programmer, the only thing the artificial intelligence is going to do is what you tell it to do. Now, with that in mind, the results can be surprising. They can be unexpected. But that does not imply creativity.

Pastor Greg Young: Whereas it might take a human 50 years, for example, to get to a particular answer just because of how we have to process, you could go and put something into a super computer, put all the components into that, and based on its processing speed, it can arrive at that in…

Robert J. Marks: Exactly. The head of the Allen Institute for AI in Seattle said something kind of profound. He said, “AI is nothing but a pencil in the following sense: “No matter what a computer program does, if you were to given a million or a billion years, you could work it out with a paper and pencil.”

Pastor Greg Young: Right, and because really that’s all we’ve done is we’ve created a processor. That’s why they’re called “processors.” It’s a process and then we attach a program to that process. The faster the processor, the more information created within the program. It’s really the genius of the programmer, not the genius of the AI.

Robert J. Marks: Which brings us back to the patentability issue… The AI itself is nothing more than a tool, and should no more be granted a patent than my word processor should be given credit for an article I write. It’s just a tool. It’s a very powerful tool, and it’s a tool, like any tool, that can be used for good, or it can be used for evil. but it’s a tool that we have available now to us.

You may also wish to read:

One thing we can know about computers: They are not creative. Computer engineer Robert J. Marks explains that to David Krieger at the Power Hour. Marks: Now, you have to define “creativity,” here and we can do that, but there is no evidence that a computer has ever been creative…

and

Why AI could (but may not) predict school shootings There is no solution that is not run through natural intelligence, computer science prof Robert J. Marks explains to John Catsimatidis at the Cats Roundtable. Even the computers of the future will be limited to computable things, but they will be able to do them faster. We could do them today but it takes too long.

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The Computer Is Not an Idea Machine, It’s a Powerful Pencil