As the computer industry exploded, and as billionaires have sprung up and as computers have changed the face of the planet, where is a new invention? I keep a copy of an Addison Wiley book called Electronic Digital Systems from my days at the University of Utah. That old, blue, dusty hardcover from the 1950s, by R. K. Richards, contains the summation of all the Earth’s computer technology. Nothing fundamental in computer science has changed since then…Nothing.
Computers are smaller, faster, cheaper, and networked. Our computer languages are improving, but the underlying technology is identical to that first produced in the 1940’s and 1950’s by true inventors. Artificial intelligence was just a pipe dream then, and they knew it. With the current state of computer technology, it is amusing when someone announces his or her new AI advancements.
These dead-end solutions, like the internal combustion engine, are nothing but a crutch for humanity to lean on, holding it back like a ball and chain around the neck. Many investors are wise enough and experienced enough to know this is true — having spent a small fortune on artificial intelligence start-up flops.
Thinking out of the box has become a problem. Where are the new true inventors? Perhaps they are homeless somewhere because nobody would listen to their ideas. Where are those 50s like inventors that dare to know?
Richard Feynman held the view that there were two kinds of physicists, the Greeks, and the Babylonians. We have become the Greeks. I’m looking for the Babylonians.
Feynman is the guy that dunked a piece of the rocket booster’s O-ring into a cup of ice water right in front of the committee at the Challenger hearings. He could not get a straight answer to how the O-ring material reacted at lower temperatures. So Feynman taught them with experiment.
The Greeks are the famous physicists. An example is Euclid, one of the inventors of mathematics. The Greeks were the ones who invented the concept of theorems and proofs. They were more concerned about systems of axioms and assumptions. That is us today, we have become the Greeks.
The Babylonians, on the other hand, were interested in methods that ultimately worked and described the real world. In other words, the Greeks felt there needed to be a formula for everything and the Babylonians just focused on the problem at hand.
We have great mathematicians and computer scientists, so why bother with the Babylonian approach? Well, let’s let the Greeks follow up and try to package our solutions into some excellent logical system. However, real change comes from the dreamers, the Babylonians. The Babylonian approach is one of imagination, instinct, and intuition. They don’t care if they break the rules as long as it works.
When Feynman dropped that piece of O-ring into the ice water, he was telling the commission something acutely important. He didn’t care about the mathematics used by the engineers; he wanted to know why someone had not merely tested the material properly. Moreover, if they had, where were the results? Feynman was a Babylonian.
We don’t have a thousand years, or a hundred years or even decades. We must pursue a new approach to Artificial Intelligence now. Besides, how can we fail? If Feynman was right and there’s an infinite number of solutions to any problem, then we just need to find one.
Machine learning is looking like a Babylonian approach. We have experimenters. And quantum computing with entanglement and superposition, well that’s the stuff dreamers can work with. Perhaps this is where that one breakthrough might be, a pure new invention.