The world’s preeminent linguist has spoken — and he seems mighty tired of everyone’s whining about artificial intelligence as it stands today.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Noam Chomsky said that although the current spate of AI chatbots such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing AI “have been hailed as the first glimmers on the horizon of artificial general intelligence” — the point at which AIs are able to think and act in ways superior to humans — we absolutely are not anywhere near that level yet.
“That day may come, but its dawn is not yet breaking, contrary to what can be read in hyperbolic headlines and reckoned by injudicious investments,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cognitive scientist mused.
“However useful these programs may be in some narrow domains,” Chomsky notes, there’s no way that machine learning as it is today could compete with the human mind.
Headlines about AI coming for our jobs and taking over our future are, as the public intellectual writes, like something out of a tragicomedy by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges — and should be taken as such.
“The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question,” Chomsky expounds. “On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations.”
While currently available AI chatbots may seem to mimic human creativity and ingenuity, they are doing so only based on statistical probability, and not as a result of the kind of deeper knowledge and understanding that belies all human thought processes and are thusly “stuck in a prehuman or nonhuman phase of cognitive evolution,” Chomsky argued.
“Whereas humans are limited in the kinds of explanations we can rationally conjecture, machine learning systems can learn both that the earth is flat and that the earth is round,” Chomsky notes. “They trade merely in probabilities that change over time.”
“For this reason,” he concluded, “the predictions of machine learning systems will always be superficial and dubious.”
In other words, the concept that these AIs will take over the world is, with that absolute lack of human-like understanding of how the world works, impossible.