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Cover of "The Book of Why"

A lot of artificial intelligence researchers have put a pause on their quest for a super-intelligent machine, frustrated by the lack of recent progress. But among those still in the hunt are Judea Pearl, winner of the Turing Award, the highest prize in computer science, and author of "The Book of Why," in which he proposes a new map to intelligent machines.

  • Pearl calls his approach "causal reasoning," the ability to infer the whys and hows of a situation.
  • While it won't get to artificial general intelligence itself, causal reasoning is the eventual route there, and thus will mark a "mini-revolution," he tells Axios.

The problem with machine learning, Pearl said, is that it rests on correlation and association, which have made remarkable achievements but are still elementary in terms of true thinking — and they can only take the field so far.

  • He told me the story of an AI program watching a rooster crow day after day before the sun rises, and determining that it causes the sun to rise.
  • That is an example of correlation. But, Pearl writes in the book, "Causal explanations, not dry facts, make up the bulk of our knowledge, and should be the cornerstone of machine intelligence."
  • The goal of AI researchers "is to produce machines with humanlike intelligence, able to converse with and guide humans. Deep learning has instead given us machines with truly impressive abilities but no intelligence."

Causal reasoning differs by working through a situation without specific training, said Pearl, and borrows from methods already in use by social and health science researchers.

  • For instance, a self-driving car equipped with causal reasoning could encounter a situation for which it has no data, and instantly adapt, said Pearl.
  • "This is the route [to general artificial intelligence] and these are the building blocks," he said. "On top of them, we need to build capabilities such as: social intelligence, humor, and perhaps even fear of death."
  • "The mini-revolution I am predicting will liberate machine learning from its current predicaments of opaqueness, forgetfulness and lack of explainability," he said. "Plus it will allow machine to learn answers to questions we really care about, (e.g., what caused this accident?) not merely associations."

Go deeper: In this Bloomberg video, Facebook's Yann Lecun discusses how to advance AI.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
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The women's professional tennis tour suspended tournaments in China Wednesday out of concern for Peng Shuai, on the same day that a top business voice made excuses for Beijing.

Why it matters: Ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Beijing, some sports figures are taking on the regime — while Big Business shrinks from confrontation with the world's second-largest economy.

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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Hope you enjoyed the recent flurry of free-agent activity, because it's likely the last non-lockout-related MLB news for a while.

Driving the news: The owners locked out the players after the collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight last night, leading to MLB's ninth work stoppage — and first since 1995.

Biden extends mask mandates for travelers into 2022

President Biden delivers remarks at the White House on Dec. 1. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

President Biden will announce new testing protocols for international travelers on Thursday and extend masking requirements through March as the U.S. prepares to fight the Omicron variant this winter, according to senior administration officials.

Driving the news: The U.S. will tighten pre-departure testing protocols starting early next week by requiring all inbound international travelers to take COVID-19 tests within one day of their departure rather than three.