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Sunday, February 10, 2008

War Games and AI

I just watched the 1983 film War Games. I closely follow the history of computing, and this is a fun watch to see how much things have changed since 25 years ago. This was one of the first films that positioned AI and security in a generally plausible way. In the realm of that day it was difficult for the average person to search for knowledge to perform a task. At that time the Internet did exist, I had used it as part of the Darpanet. The Web did not, and a high school student would have had a very hard time getting the knowledge they needed.

So what has happened? Now it is possible to search very broadly and very quickly. Defense systems are on separate networks and likely much more secure. Likely. Some of the suggestions of the interaction of real world and simulated systems are impressive for the time, though the security gaps are not credible.

Shortly after I first saw the film I was part of a corporate AI team that sought to implement some of the Artificial intelligence implied by the film. Large scale strategic gaming directed and optimized by computing systems. Taking simple games like checkers and chess and scaling them up to real interactions that include choice making, simulations and fallible people. The promise was a big one. Systems that could run large portions of corporations in a 'lights off' mode. Making product fast, cheaper, better.

Although there were lots of small victories that resulted from these corporate efforts, the big win never happened. What worked best were very narrow applications of AI to corporate process. Difficult too was the attempt to build intelligence that could be readily re-applicable. Bigger wins made it necessary to link many systems, many choices and many indeterminate interactions.

You can readily construct individual rules, simulations, pattern tasks and computations. You can string them together in a program or declare them as a set of knowledge statements. But eventually this falls apart. The sum of these knowledge nuggets becomes less useful in aggregate without some combining structure. Though there is AI theory that covers this, its hard to implement in real systems.

So it's not easy to build generalized intelligence systems. It was also seen early on that it was not easy to insert people in the loop to interact with an intelligent system. More recently, linking decision makers with very complex simulations has shown promise. The AI factor is still not readily available in a generalized way. Will it happen? I think so, but there is still some some fundamental first principle work to do, perhaps another 25 years.

I would love to see examples of how other corporate attempts at the broad implementations of AI succeeded or not. And in particular, what were the key barriers to this kind of work? Part of it is a better understanding of how to integrate low level intelligence tasks.

The film, despite it's age, covers some interesting space and is worth a watch. The final resolution, though, is laughable.

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