October, 2011

Practical Artificial Intelligence

There’s an old saying in computer science circles that when we have no idea how to make a piece of software do something smart we call it “Artificial Intelligence” but once it’s solved we look back with 20-20 hindsight and say it was “Software Engineering”.  A computer becoming the world chess champion is the quintessential example of this.  Once considered a holy grail of AI, by the time Deep Blue actually dethroned Kasparov, the computing world yawned, “Oh it was just brute force computing power, nothing truly intelligent is really happening”.

Beating the world champions at Jeopardy was slightly more interesting because we acknowledge the vast range of knowledge and language understanding involved.  But ultimately, since Jeopardy is just a game, we are left with the feeling, “so what?”  How does this affect my life one way or another?  Enter, Siri, the voice recognition system integrated into the new iPhone 4S.

When I heard about the feature and saw what it claimed to do, …