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Robotic Agency

Historically, if we encountered something that moved toward us, or did much at all, it was safe to assume it was an agent. The more human-like the behavior, the more agency we were encountering. As Brian Cantwell-Smith has noted, until recently if anything spoke to us, we could hope to take it home for dinner. But these days anything from our cars, to computers, or artificial intelligences might try and strike up a conversation with us. Today robots and intelligent devices are able to exhibit all kinds of behaviors that make them look as though they are agents, while we can be assured that by my definition above, they are merely machines.

An example of behavior that exposes the problem is Chess playing. This has traditionally been associated with high human intelligence, and there's no doubt that IBM's chess-playing system 'Deep Blue' that in 1997 beat the world champion, Kasparov, was a magnificent technical achievement. As might have been expected, the media reported that a brave new era of artificial intelligence had begun. But the researchers themselves saw things differently. According to Senior Manager, Chung-Jen Tan, "This chess project is not AI", and Joseph Hoane, "The techniques that tried to mimic human judgment failed miserably. We still don't know how to do that at all."

So it would be a mistake to see Deep Blue as performing human-like judgment, even though it can outperform human judgment when applied to the same task. More importantly, Deep Blue is no more an agent in the world than an everyday PC.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Adrian Wyard

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