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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Machines as intelligent as humans will be invented by 2029, predicts technologist Ray Kurzweil. "Nonsense," retorts roboticist Rodney Brooks. By that time, he says, machines will only be as smart as a mouse. As for humanlike intelligence — that may arrive by 2200.

Between these two forecasts — machines with human intelligence in 11 or 182 years — lies much of the rest of the artificial intelligence community, a disputatious lot who disagree on nearly everything about their field, Martin Ford, author of "Architects of Intelligence," tells Axios.

  • "Rise of the Robots" is a best-selling and well-reviewed book about a dystopian 2015 tract on the coming state of working humans in the new age of automation.
  • Today, he follows it up with "Architects of Intelligence," a collection of interviews he conducted over the last year with almost two dozen of the West's most illustrious artificial intelligence hands.

His main takeaway: "This is an unsettled field. It's not like physics."

  • AI may seem to be a smooth-running assembly line of startups, products and research projects. The reality, however, is a landscape clouded by uncertainty.
  • Ford's interviewees could not agree on where their field stands, how to push it forward or when it will reach its ultimate goal: a machine with humanlike intelligence.

Why it matters: The embryonic state in which Ford found AI — so early in its development more than a half-century after its birth that the basics are still up for grabs — suggests how far it has to go before reaching maturity. On his blog, Brooks has said that AI is only 1% of the way toward human intelligence.

The big picture: Research in the field has progressed in fits and starts since the term "artificial intelligence" was coined in the 1950s by American computer scientist John McCarthy, alternating between periods of hibernation and feverish activity.

  • The current frenzy is propelled by the wild success of deep learning, an AI technique that excels at finding patterns and identifying objects in photographs.
  • Few of Ford's subjects said deep learning will arrive at humanlike intelligence on its own — they said something new must be developed to get there. But deep learning aficionados ridicule the alternatives suggested by others.

Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, stands out on many fronts, Ford says. For one, he has very little patience for colleagues suffering from "engineer’s pessimism."

  • Humanlike intelligence will emerge in an exponential burst of innovation, Kurzweil said, not in linear fashion, as so many others seem to think.
  • "What Ray says is correct," says Ford. "Engineer's pessimism is what's at play; the question is who's right" — the pessimist or the optimist.
Ford's follow-up book is a collection of interviews he conducted with the West's most illustrious artificial intelligence hands.

What's next: Not all was discord. There was a remarkable confluence, for instance, on the most promising coming step.

  • Many called for an exploration of "unsupervised learning," an AI that, like a child, can wander around, poking and prodding, getting into trouble, and meanwhile learning a lot of important stuff about the world.
  • That’s a stark departure from current AI training methods, which require reams of labeled data: think photos of cats that are explicitly labeled as cats.
"Today, in order to teach a computer what a coffee mug is, we show it thousands of coffee mugs. But no child’s parents, no matter how patient and loving, ever pointed out thousands of coffee mugs to that child."
— Andrew Ng, former AI lead at Google and Baidu

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Key clean power provision likely won't survive in Dems' spending bill

A construction worker walks along a dirt road at the Avangrid Renewables La Joya wind farm in Encino, New Mexico, on Aug. 5, 2020. Photo: Cate Dingley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A pillar of Democrats' plans to speed deployment of zero-carbon electricity is likely to be cut from major spending and tax legislation they are struggling to move on a party-line vote, per multiple reports and a Capitol Hill aide.

Driving the news: The New York Times, citing anonymous congressional aides and lobbyists, reports that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) has told the White House he "strongly opposes" the Clean Electricity Performance Program.

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Fatal stabbing of British MP David Amess declared a terrorist incident

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

Authorities have declared the death of David Amess a terrorist incident, hours after the Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K. was fatally stabbed while meeting with local constituents in a church in eastern England on Friday.

The big picture: The Metropolitan Police has found "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism."

Biden: DOJ should prosecute those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas

President Biden speaks with reporters at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that the Justice Department should prosecute those who defy subpoenas from the Jan. 6 select committee.

Why it matters: The president's remarks come one day after Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon failed to show up for a deposition before the committee.