Artificial Intelligence Is Stupid and Causal Reasoning Will Not Fix It

Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2021)
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Artificial Neural Networks have reached “grandmaster” and even “super-human” performance across a variety of games, from those involving perfect information, such as Go, to those involving imperfect information, such as “Starcraft”. Such technological developments from artificial intelligence (AI) labs have ushered concomitant applications across the world of business, where an “AI” brand-tag is quickly becoming ubiquitous. A corollary of such widespread commercial deployment is that when AI gets things wrong—an autonomous vehicle crashes, a chatbot exhibits “racist” behavior, automated credit-scoring processes “discriminate” on gender, etc.—there are often significant financial, legal, and brand consequences, and the incident becomes major news. As Judea Pearl sees it, the underlying reason for such mistakes is that “... all the impressive achievements of deep learning amount to just curve fitting.” The key, as Pearl suggests, is to replace “reasoning by association” with “causal reasoning” —the ability to infer causes from observed phenomena. It is a point that was echoed by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in a recent piece for theNew York Times: “we need to stop building computer systems that merely get better and better at detecting statistical patterns in data sets—often using an approach known as ‘Deep Learning’—and start building computer systems that from the moment of their assembly innately grasp three basic concepts: time, space, and causality.” In this paper, foregrounding what in 1949 Gilbert Ryle termed “a category mistake”, I will offer an alternative explanation for AI errors; it is not so much that AI machinery cannot “grasp” causality, but that AI machinery (qua computation) cannot understand anything at all.



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John Mark Bishop
Goldsmiths College, University of London