Six Ways to Recognize a Crackpot AI Theorist

August 19, 2014

Why haven’t we achieved general artificial intelligence yet? One reason is because the field of AI is full of crackpots! Too many weirdos with their crazy superstitious ideas and get-rich-quick schemes.

Close-Up of scaffolding and cables at a construction site - Toranomon, Aug. 7, 2013

Close-Up of scaffolding and cables at a construction site – Toranomon, Aug. 7, 2013 (Enlarge)

And they’ve scared off the smart people. At least that’s what Nick Bostrom seems to think. In an interview he said, “A lot of academics were wary of entering a field where there were a lot of crackpots or crazies. The crackpot factor deterred a lot of people for a long time.”

It’s easy to see why AI would attract crackpots. This is exciting stuff. It could totally change the world some day, perhaps very soon. It could mean the end of humanity – or else a utopian heaven on Earth. Also, AI is a deceptively difficult topic to study. One person working alone on a home computer can easily get started on some a kind of artificial intelligence program. Such a lone hacker could easily get excited and jump to quick conclusions about AI – conclusions that are totally wrong.

There are a million science fiction stories about AI, right? And science fiction writers are all crackpots, almost by definition, but some of them win fame and fortune with their books and popular Hollywood movies. So that’s nothing to sniff at.

The media is even worse because they love to jump on the topic of AI and trumpet its outlandish promises and perils. Popular media stories are so superficial! They’re just milking the concept for clicks and eyeballs.

So what about me – am I a crackpot?

All honest, self-respecting AI theorists must ask themselves this question. I’m particularly at risk of being a crackpot because I’ve been a computer programmer, and I’ve worked in the media (as a journalist), and I’m also a science fiction writer. I was just lambasting these groups, and yet I’m a member of all three!

Well, I won’t try to tell you I’m not a crackpot, but I’ll just give you a few suggestions for how you can decide for yourself. Here’s a quick list of six ways to recognize a crackpot:

  1. Big promises with little or no concrete explanation
  2. Using big technical words or fancy math to sound impressive
  3. Spirituality or mysticism or other supernatural stuff
  4. Self-promotion, and personal attacks on other people
  5. Asking for money or other support
  6. Never addressing the question of whether they are themselves a crackpot

What do you think – have I done these things? Some people I’ve met in online discussions have pointed out that my theory of AI is still rather sketchy, so I might be guilty of #1 in the list above. On the other hand, I think my quick overview is pretty concrete and specific. It just needs more explanation, more development. It’s a work in progress, I say.

1 Comment

  1. Mentifex says:

    People sometimes suggest that I am an AI crackpot, but meanwhile I have created four-plus artificial Minds and I have published five books about AI.