OPINION: Artificial, Yes. Intelligent? Maybe.


Artificial intelligence, or machine learning, has been gaining more traction in recent years. However, is the financial services industry, and everyone else, falling victim to a fallacy regarding intelligence?

According to Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the Vista, California-based American Institute for Behavioral Research Technology, in his recent essay The Empty Brain, the answer is “yes.”

Epstein posited that science still doesn’t understand how the human brain operates. His colleague, Nobel-Award winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University estimated that it might be 100 years before science truly understands how the brain works.

In the meantime, scientists and researchers have been describing the brain’s function in terms of metaphors. The most current and popular one being that the brain processes information like a computer processes data.

This is a false syllogism, wrote Epstein. The concepts “All computers are capable of behaving intelligently,” and “All computers are information processors” do not equate to “All entities behaving intelligently that are capable of acting intelligently are information processors.”

Such a fallacy is just the latest in a long line of metaphors that humanity has used to speculate on the brain’s operation, he acknowledged.

Citing George Zarkadakis’ In Our Own Image, an age typically equates how intelligence and memory work by the most advanced scientific theory available whether it’s based on the third-century BCE’s hydraulic model of humours or the 16th Century’s mechanical model, Epstein explained. The information processing model only came on the radar screen in the 1940s with the introduction of electronic computers.

The main difference between the brain and a computer is that the braid does not process or store information like a computer. A person doesn’t store a complete copy of a song, image, or smell in an organic equivalent of a data base to be retrieved later.

According to Epstein, humans really have three experiences: observation, pairing of unimportant stimuli with important stimuli, such as how a siren is heard before seeing a firetruck; and rewards and punishments based on the subject’s behavior.

There is no individual neuron that stores a specific memory of last year’s summer barbecue or the bassline to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. When people recall a memory, they use a large area of their brains instead of accessing the organic equivalent of a file drawer.

Even those who have tried to create a computer model the brain are at a loss. The EU spent $1.3 billion on its Human Brain Project, which attempted to simulate a human brain using a supercomputer, only to see the project crash and burn in 2015, two years after its start.

Until the neuroscience discovers how the brain captures and recalls memories, it’s doubtful that computer science can do more than a rough approximation of intelligence.

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Featured image by Yuichiro Chino/Dollar Photo Club

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