Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Communication Breakdown

A pair of experts mulled whether we’d ever get machines to talk, let alone think.

  • August 23, 2016

"Computers will not be first-rate teachers unless researchers can solve four basic problems: how to get machines to talk, to listen, to know, and to coach. ‘We speak as part of our humanness, instinctively, on the basis of past experience,’ wrote Patrick Suppes of Stanford University, one of the pioneers in computer--aided instruction, in a 1966 Scientific American article. ‘But to get a computer to talk appropriately, we need an explicit theory of talking.’

Unfortunately, there is no such theory, and if our analysis of human intelligence is correct, there never will be. The same holds true for the problem of getting computers to listen. Continuous speech recognition seems to be a skill that resists decomposition into features and rules. What we hear does not always correspond to the features of the sound stream. Depending on the context and our expectations, we hear a stream of sound as ‘I scream,’ or ‘ice cream.’ We assign the space or pause in one of two places, although there is no pause in the sound stream. One expert came up with a sentence that illustrates the different ways we can hear the same stream of sound: ‘It isn’t easy to wreck a nice beach.’ (Try reading that sentence out loud.)

This story is part of our September/October 2016 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

At this point the reader may reasonably ask: If computers used as logic machines cannot attain the skill level of expert human beings, then why doesn’t the public know that? The answer is that AI researchers have a great deal at stake in making it appear that their science and its engineering offspring are on solid ground. They will do whatever is required to preserve this image.”

Excerpted from “Why Computers May Never Think like People,” by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus, brothers and coauthors of the book Mind Over Machine, in the January 1986 issue of Technology Review.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.