A Rat is Smarter Than Google

And that's no dig at Google, according to artificial intelligence researchers Yann LeCun and Josh Tenenbaum. The two spoke at the World Science Festival in New York City after the premier of "The Creator: Alan Turing and the Future of Thinking Machines," a trippy arthouse film about 1940s and 1950s artificial intelligence visionary Alan Turing.

The galactic encyclopedia we know as Google is brilliant in many ways — for the amount of information it can absorb and shoot back in response to virtually any kind of question. Still, "It's rote learning; there's no understanding," said LeCun, a professor of computer and neural science at New York University.

In terms of computational ability, even the most-powerful computers in the world are just approaching that of an insect, according to LeCun. "I would be happy in my lifetime to build a machine as intelligent as a rat," he said.

And some of the seemingly amazing things that Google can do, like giving us driving or walking directions nearly instantaneously, use only a basic kind of intelligence called simple planning. "That's very easy," said Tenenbaum, a professor of computational computer science at MIT. "It's not even called it AI anymore. It's just called Google." [How to Use the New Research Tool in Google Docs]

Real intelligence, they said, is not just memorizing but using what you've learned to figure out situations you've never experienced, such as the film the men had just seen. "You watch this film and you see images you've never seen before. You may not know anything about the life of this character," Tenenbaum said.

"That whole context of communication intelligence, of getting inside another person just by the data of what they say and you say back, that's the heart of human intelligence," he said.

The two professors are nowhere near that. LeCun, for example, is experimenting with a driving robot that tries to identify the objects around it. He showed a video of what the robot sees — how it labels objects like people, trees and roads. It generally gets them right, but often calls trees people, a patch of dirt water, a lamppost a building.

To show what AI researchers are up against, LeCun described the immensity of the human brain based on the latest, albeit very rough, estimates: 100 billion neurons make from 1,000 to 10,000 connections with other neurons and use those connections up to 100 to 1,000 times a second (a pretty high estimate). That's perhaps a quintillion — 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 — operations happening every second in everyone's head.

"But the power of supercomputers increases exponentially," said LeCun, estimating that they will reach that ability in "somewhere between 30 and a 100 years. Then we wait another 10 or 20 years, and it fits in your smartphone. So then your smartphone is smarter than you." [Smartphone App Use Soars]

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