Artificial Intelligence Is Better than No Intelligence at All

Now that Steven Spielberg's movie A.I. is out, people everywhere are asking themselves, "Don't we have better things to do with eight bucks than buy a movie ticket, then blow another twelve on popcorn, soda, and NoDoz so we can stay awake and enjoy ourselves?" They're also asking about the possibility of artificial intelligence, which is what A.I. stands for. Yes, in the great tradition of E.T., ER, and SeaQuest DSV, Spielberg has once again opted for initials. You'd think with his budget he could afford to buy a few more vowels from Pat Sajak.

The movie is about a robot that's so intelligent it can feel emotions. And no, it's not the Al Gore story. This robot is a boy model, one that luckily doesn't speak with an Austrian accent as other movie robots have been known to do. He lives, learns, and has his heart broken when he realizes he can never fit in because no one else uses WD-40 as deodorant. Just kidding. Actually Al Gore does.

The very idea that a machine could think and feel is fascinating. Imagine an elevator smart enough to not just tell you what's on the floor you're about to stop at, but to ask, "Are you sure you want to go through with this divorce? You seem a bit conflicted about it. Do you still have issues? Maybe you should see Dr. Shaken in suite 422 instead of that second-rate lawyer you have an appointment with. Hey, don't look at me like that. My cousin keeps that shyster's schedule and tells me everything."

Or how about a computer that can sense when you're about to boil over because Windows is crashing for the 47th time today so it immediately launches an anger management program, reminding you that every time you lose your temper it costs money because you have to buy a new monitor. Or golf club. Or both if you used the golf club on the monitor. Hey, a machine with a sense of self-preservation would be a wonderful thing. For the machine, anyway.

The concept of artificial intelligence is nothing new. HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, had lots of it. The robot on Lost in Space had A.I. too, though not nearly as much. Actually he was about a half-step above Lassie. While Lassie would run and get help when Jeff found himself stuck in the bottom of an abandoned well because he thought it would be a cool place to hide and look up the little girl's skirts as they walked by, that was completely reactive. The robot, being an enlightened model, was pro-active. He could spot trouble before it happened, shouting out, "The door is ajar, Will Robinson! The door is ajar!" Yes, unlike the child actors he worked with, the robot went on to have a career after the show was cancelled, landing a lucrative contract making voice recordings for GM cars.

Of course neither of them felt emotion, as is obvious if you listen to HAL, who if he had half the brains the movie wants you to think he does would sue Ben Stein for stealing both his voice and personality. But before a machine can have emotion it needs intelligence, yet how can they have intelligence when people can't even agree on what that is?

Basically, there are three types of intelligence: the kind measured by an IQ test, emotional intelligence, and that which you demonstrate by not getting into discussions about this in the first place. Albert Einstein was definitely intelligent. Bill Clinton was intelligent. Not smart, but intelligent. Marilyn vos Savant on the other hand, who claims to have the world's highest IQ, isn't as intelligent as she'd like you to believe, otherwise she'd be doing something a little more constructive than solving goofy brain teasers in Parade every Sunday.

Then there's artificial intelligence. While it doesn't yet exist in machines, it does in humans. Take President Bush. His intelligence is definitely artificial. After all, it comes from an outside source -- Dick Cheney. And how about the brain trust at the Greater North Dakota Association (motto: "Greater than what?") which wants to change the state's name to Dakota. They figure that if Cher, Britney, Madonna, and Barbie's boyfriend Ken can all go by one name then their state should too. If they get their way and the trend continues, before you know it South Dakota will be known as South, Wyoming will become Why?, and New Mexico will change its name to Mexico, which will really confuse the ten percent of high school students who don't already think it's a foreign country.

You know artificial intelligence is a bona fide trend when dictionaries recognize it. The new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (motto: "So many words; so few times to use most of them without sounding like you have a stick up your butt.") went ahead and added A.I.'s secret password. That's right, "doh!" is now a real word. (NOTE TO SELF: Remember this for the next Scrabble game.) They define it as "expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned or that one has just said or done something foolish." You know, like making a movie about a boy robot with emotions that sells fewer tickets in its second week of release than one about talking cats and dogs. Now that sounds like artificial intelligence.

More from Mad Dog can be found at www.maddogproductions.com.

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