As an AI researcher, I’ll admit it was nice to have my own field highlighted at the highest level of American government, but the report focused almost exclusively on what I call “the boring kind of AI.” It dismissed in half a sentence my branch of AI research, into how evolution can help develop ever-improving AI systems, and how computational models can help us understand how our human intelligence evolved.
There are four types of artificial intelligence: reactive machines, limited memory, theory of mind and self-awareness.
This type of intelligence involves the computer perceiving the world directly and acting on what it sees. It doesn’t rely on an internal concept of the world. In a seminal paper, AI researcher Rodney Brooks argued that we should only build machines like this. His main reason was that people are not very good at programming accurate simulated worlds for computers to use, what is called in AI scholarship a “representation” of the world.
This Type II class contains machines can look into the past. Self-driving cars do some of this already. For example, they observe other cars’ speed and direction. That can’t be done in a just one moment, but rather requires identifying specific objects and monitoring them over time.
These observations are added to the self-driving cars’ preprogrammed representations of the world, which also include lane markings, traffic lights and other important elements, like curves in the road. They’re included when the car decides when to change lanes, to avoid cutting off another driver or being hit by a nearby car.
This is crucial to how we humans formed societies, because they allowed us to have social interactions. Without understanding each other’s motives and intentions, and without taking into account what somebody else knows either about me or the environment, working together is at best difficult, at worst impossible.
If AI systems are indeed ever to walk among us, they’ll have to be able to understand that each of us has thoughts and feelings and expectations for how we’ll be treated. And they’ll have to adjust their behavior accordingly.
This is, in a sense, an extension of the “theory of mind” possessed by Type III artificial intelligences. Consciousness is also called “self-awareness” for a reason. (“I want that item” is a very different statement from “I know I want that item.”) Conscious beings are aware of themselves, know about their internal states, and are able to predict feelings of others. We assume someone honking behind us in traffic is angry or impatient, because that’s how we feel when we honk at others. Without a theory of mind, we could not make those sorts of inferences.