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Machines Like Us

Paul Almond

Paul Almond is an outspoken UK atheist and independent researcher in the field of artificial intelligence. His innovative projects include his conceptual probabilistically expressed hierarchy AI system – using meaning extraction (partial model) algorithms – which learns by experiencing the real world. The system is superficially similar to that of Jeff Hawkins, but differs in its robust approach to probability and the incorporation of planning into the hierarchical model itself, removing any distinction between planning and modeling.

"Hawkins' view," says Almond, "is clearly that meaning gets abstracted up and then some output system starts to send actions down where they get 'unabstracted,' and related to each level in the hierarchy by some sort of coupling. To me, this is way off the mark; we do not need any such planning system. I do not really take the Hawkins hierarchy seriously. It does not deal with probability and that is necessary to take the approach to planning that I think is the right one."

During the dotcom boom, Almond worked as a computer programmer and computing instructor while developing the theories that form the basis of his current research. Almond's papers include: The Diminished God Refutation: Why Unlikely Sequences of Events Do Not Prove a God, A Refutation of Penrose's Godel-Turing Proof that Computational Artificial Intelligence is Impossible, Getting Darwinian Evolution to Work, Modeling in Artificial Intelligence, John Searle's Position within an Evolutionary Context, Occam's Razor, and Representation and Planning of Actions in Artificial Intelligence.

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Paul Almond Quotes

Artificially intelligent systems must not merely observe reality and infer things from it, they must DO things.

The real problem in an unlikely sequence of events, or one thought to be unlikely, is its specificity. We may delude ourselves that we are dealing with this specificity by 'sweeping it under' a diminished god, but in reality this achieves nothing. The specificity is still there – it has merely been located inside a god, where there is no reason why it should not face the same questions about plausibility.

When you install programs onto a computer you are placing enormous trust in their creators. You are trusting them to have almost total power over your computer and access to data about your business operations or personal life. In the past people have often had to trust people who have been hired to do jobs, to some degree, but the degree of trust which is placed in software makers is unparalleled in human history. It is a degree of trust which would be alien to most people's way of thinking in other contexts.