Douglas Hofstadter

mathematics/logic author

Oct'2013: his alienation from the AI mainstream. Take Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer that bested the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. Deep Blue won by brute force... Hofstadter wanted to ask: Why conquer a task if there’s no insight to be had from the victory? “Okay,” he says, “Deep Blue plays very good chess—so what? Does that tell you something about how we play chess? No. Does it tell you about how Kasparov envisions, understands a chessboard?” A brand of AI that didn’t try to answer such questions—however impressive it might have been—was, in Hofstadter’s mind, a diversion... Of course, the folly of being above the fray is that you’re also not a part of it. “There are very few ideas in science that are so black-and-white that people say ‘Oh, good God, why didn’t we think of that?’ ” says Bob French, a former student of Hofstadter’s who has known him for 30 years. “Everything from plate tectonics to evolution—all those ideas, someone had to fight for them, because people didn’t agree with those ideas. And if you don’t participate in the fight, in the rough-and-tumble of academia, your ideas are going to end up being sidelined by ideas which are perhaps not as good, but were more ardently defended in the arena.” (Marketing)

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