Computers are not smart, not stupid either

I'm glad we stopped hearing people say "the computer is so stupid that it can't even <insert something simple here>". I used to have a teacher in college that would start every class with one of those remarks he would think is clever.

The world moved on. No one thinks the computer is stupid anymore. Well, at least not in the same manner. We believe computers are smart, and this is not because some scientist managed to create a sentient algorithm that managed to pierce through the barrier of silicon and became self aware. We believe they are smart as a result of remarkable marketing campaign in the mobile industry.

Smartphones, smart houses, smart devices. Not that these machines have anything new to them that their previous "Dumb" or "Stupid" counter part had. But we have come to understand that when a device can perform a task we want, it means it is smart.

Unfortunately, when it can't we call it stupid. You can spend hours on YouTube watching people trying to prove that Cortana is smarter, or that Siri is not smarter but more human like. All the while, data is passing through silicon and being interpreted unbiasedly.

Smart ™ should limit itself to marketing. It is not to say that the device is actually smart. Because if one machine can be smart, another will have to be stupid. And we all know that this is not how it works.

Here how a machine can appear smart:

$> What's the weather like outside right now?
It is 63 degrees right now. Don't forget to wear a jacket if you go out.

A simple script can look for words like weather for subject and now for time, and get the correct data from an available API. If the user had misspelled the word weather and wrote whether, the script would fail. A competitor product might use a script that process natural language and flag the word whether as out of place and try to replace it with weather.

$> What's the whether like outside right now?
Do you mean the weather? Enter yes or no > yes
It is 63 degrees right now. Don't forget to wear a jacket if you go out.

New computers can do this at an incredible speed making it look smart. Cortana for example has a plethora of APIs powered by Bing at its disposal. But natural language can be very hard. Even Microsoft doesn't have a full grip on it. So for the times you ask it a question and it fails, it will appear stupid. In reality, it is not being stupid, it simply failed to match your request with relevant data.

We human beings love to give human like attributes to things. So it is only natural that we think a computer is smart, thus can also be stupid. In reality, it is just electricity passing through silicon.

Saying a computer is smart or stupid is simply us failing the Turing test.


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