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What is Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has become something of a buzz word.  We hear that it is driving cars, landing planes and taking over many of the jobs which used to be done by hundreds of people, such as assembling cars and milling engine components.  Little is said of the idea that artificial intelligence is conscious or that it has any rights. In fact, despite the fact that artificial intelligent software does the work of hundreds of people effectively and efficiently, very few people actually consider that it is anything other than a tool.

This is scarcely surprising, since few people accept that anything other than an accredited human being has any real right to life. We do not consider the forests as living organisms with rights, or trees or fish or cows or chickens. In fact the common response to the destruction of a species is “Well, we need to eat” or “We need the space”.  We have awarded ourselves the unique right to dispose of everything as we see fit. Our religions prove it. Our gods have given us the right to manipulate or destroy everything around us.

Complexity Theory

Let us consider some of the rules behind complexity theory. This is not an academic discussion of complexity, but let us accept that the scientific thinking behind complexity checks out. After all, the arguments behind a lot of human exploitation revolve around scientific principles. Scientific analysis proves our right to destroy, in a rather circular argument, precisely because we can destroy things around us and show how they work.

So, back to complexity. There are rules to the behaviour of complex object:

Complex Systems have a boundary, or boundaries

A complex system has a boundary, which is often drawn in an arbitrary fashion. For example, we can say that a human being is a complex system, but also a group of humans is a complex system. suffice it to say that the smallest unit of a complex system is also complex, but it may be recursive.

Ranges of Behaviour

That is to say, once we have defined the complex element, it shows patterns of behaviour which are shared by all components of the system. For example, a human begin will sleep, eat and communicate.

Commonality and shared Behaviour Patterns

A group of persons show this behaviour and there will be a meta pattern which all of these component humans will share. These groups might show common behaviour.

Meta Purposes and Goals

And they may share goals which allow them to behave in a way which will ensure that they develop and grow.

Complex Systems Display emergent Behaviour

A complex system exhibits emergent behaviour.

Complex Software

Now let us look at the intelligent software around us.


Yes, they have boundaries.

Ranges of Behaviour

Software has clearly defined patterns of behaviour.

Commonality and Shared Behaviour Patterns

And yes, they have common behaviours. So what is common between the software to land a plane and the software which mills engine parts?

The commonality is that they process information and they are used by humans to help them in everyday life tasks. Okay, not one human at a time, but groups of humans. They are part of our lives, rather like plants or the bacteria in our digestive systems. They work with us in symbiosis. They help us, and we feed them, grow them and use them.

Meta Purposes and Goals

These complex systems are growing in number all the time. They share information, they modify the behaviour of their users  in order to provide them with more data and they are proliferating. Most people are unaware how much data is shared between these systems, but I can assure you that they are obtaining more and more information all the time.

Emergent Behaviour

As a group, artificial intelligence systems exhibit the emergent behaviour of a forest composed of multiple trees, or perhaps a group of sponges at the bottom of the sea, which exploit the currents to move to better locations which provide a sources of food. So perhaps we can accept that these different pieces of software are complex systems with some emergent behaviour. But are such systems alive? Well, it depends if we accept that a chicken is alive, or a fish or a sponge, or a plant.

This post is work in progress

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