This weekend, while many of us were enjoying the Pentecost holidays, chatterbot Eugene Goostman became the first computer program to pass the famous Turing test. The team of Russian computer scientists led by Vladimir Veselov managed to convince 33% of the jury members that they were instant messaging with a 13-year-old boy called Eugene, instead of a computer program. During the past days, many of the major tech blogs have reported about this historic event. While this certainly is an enormous milestone in the development of artificial intelligence, I would like to propose a new test, one which in my opinion better suits the relation between human and artificial intelligence. But let’s first have a closer look at the original Turing test.
After a good night’s sleep in my own bed the Hack the Brain hackathon is clearly over. Words like ‘inspiring’, ‘fascinating’, ‘mind-blowing’ or some other tags that TED seems to add to every single one of their talks, definitely come to mind. In this post I’ll explain more about the project our team has made and mention some other interesting projects.
The age of the cyborg
We seem to be done with RoboCop, Replicants, and the Borg from the Star Trek universe. The cyborg as seen by the general public is no longer merely a science fiction staple. Bionic limbs, artificial eyes and brain-computer interaction research crowds the news. We are in the age of the cyborg, it is declared. You see it pop up on the DailyScience, in general newspapers, in YouTube videos. In 2010, the Cyborg Foundation was created by the artist Harbisson, who ‘hears’ color by an electronic device attached to his skull. In short, cyborgs are everywhere. But most people only have a vague, sci-fi inspired notion of what a cyborg actually is. If we truly are in the age of the cyborg, when did this age begin?
This weekend I will be joining the Hack the Brain hackathon, organized by Waag Society, Donders Institute, TNO and Total Active Media. During three days 45 programmers, designers, artists and scientists will try to hack the human brain in the centre of Amsterdam.
During the hackathon several EEG scanners, including the Emotiv EPOC will be available to use. With these devices it’s possible to read out electric activity around your scalp directly into your computer. Many projects making use of these devices create a Brain Computer Interface (BCI): a way to control software on your computer or an interactive installation by detecting your brain activity. Controlling your computer using only your thoughts is a very exciting idea to many people. Generally I’m a bit skeptical about BCIs using EEG though.
The reason of this skepticism is probably that I’ve seen quite a few installations that attempted to use the EEG data in a meaningful way. This appears to be quite hard, only few mental events can be measured accurately. The attempts I’ve seen fall roughly into three categories:
When I first read the famous paper “The Extended Mind” by Andy Clark and David Chalmers several years ago, I was quite fascinated by it. It describes some simple thought experiments to cleverly cast doubt on our common intuition that our cognitive processes take place only within our heads. Instead, it suggests that our mental processes can extend beyond our brains and into the environment. As this paper has had a central role in the development of my motivation to start this website, I’d like to discuss the basics of the Hypothesis of the Extended Mind in this first post.
Clark and Chalmers start their paper with a thought experiment. In this experiment the reader is asked to consider three cases of problem solving and to think about how much cognition is present in each case:
- A person sits in front of a computer screen which displays geometrical shapes and is asked whether the shapes fit in the displayed ‘sockets’. The person has to answer by rotating the shapes in his mind.
- The same situation as in (a), but now the person can choose either to mentally rotate the shape or physically rotate it by pressing a button, the latter having some speed advantage.
- The same situation in a possible future, where the person can choose between using his neural implant that does the rotation operation as fast as the computer does in (b), or using ‘old-fashioned’ mental rotation.
We are tempted to say that in case (2) less cognition is present than in (1) or (3); we have a strong intuition that our mental processes take place within our heads. Clark & Chalmers state that these three cases are actually similar, since there isn’t any real fundamental difference between case (2) and (3), other than the boundary of skin and skull.