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Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: Paul Almond

Saturday, 30 June 2007

An outspoken UK atheist and independent researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, Paul Almond's 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 modelling.

"Hawkins' view," says Almond, "is clearly that meaning gets abstracted up and then some output system starts to send actions down where they become '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, and Occam's Razor: Representation and Planning of Actions in Artificial Intelligence.

Interview conducted by Norm Nason, who spoke to Paul from his home in Lancashire, England.

MLUThanks for joining us, Paul. It's good to have you here.

PA: Thank you for inviting me to talk to you, Norm.
MLU: Artificial Intelligence projects have been around for many years, but as far as the general public in concerned, there is a wide gap between today's AI systems and what is seen in science fiction novels and films. On the one hand we see PC's on our desktop and clever rovers on Mars, but these examples pale in comparison to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the robots in Asimov's famous novel, I, Robot. Is true machine sentience even possible, or, because of our hunger for entertainment, have we set our expectations too high?