Sunday, January 24, 2010


The concept of Artificial Intelligence is one that has fascinated the world of science fiction for years.  Movies like A.I. and 2001: Space Odyssey are the most recent, but the concept existed in the general consciousness long before then.  Even the ancient Greeks were fascinated by the thought that their creations might be made flesh; Ovid wrote of Pygmalion, who fell in love with his own creation.

Pygmalion got his happy ending thanks to Divine Intervention, but it seems that we as a collection of storytellers don't think kindly on man's wish to create something living with his hands.  Stories where the brilliance of man leads to his creation of an artificial intelligence almost invariably lead to man's own destruction.  Still we continue to ponder our own ability (or lack thereof) to create life from the ether.

Why should this be so fascinating to us?  Perhaps it's something as basic as the desire to fully comprehend our own creation, our own "maker" if you will, whether you give it the name of science, evolution, or God.  For what better way to learn about the process of making life than to do it oneself?

Science has cataloged every step of the creation process of a human being.  And we believe that process is written into our very DNA, predictable because of its consistency.  However, the most brilliant minds in science have yet to explain why it works the way it does, and with such consistency.  And they also haven't explained why, despite astronomical odds to the contrary, any woman ever conceives at all.

I am not attempting to solve, or even to raise the debate of Science vs. God.  That discussion has been carried on for thousands of years, and by people smarter and more learned than me.  I merely point out that despite our best efforts, we are no closer to explaining the mysteries of life than when we saw demigods in the stars and believed that rotting meat turned into flies of its own accord.

Why then, should we not ponder our own ability to create life, or something like it?  If we can assimilate enough information about the human mind and how it functions, surely we can program a computer to think like a person... except we can't.  No matter how logical a system we can create, we can never fabricate that radical element, the ghost in the machine, the creative spark in the human mind that can leap from point A to point Q without passing through the points in between.  We can understand computers because we build them and understand how they function, but they can never truly understand us.

And it's possible that's our frustration.  While we can dream and envision a perfect form, we are crippled by our inability to perfectly create it.  Maybe that's why we continually tell ourselves the story of Pygmalion, with various outcomes, to laugh at our own ineptitude, or to howl at the skies, or simply to gather together and wonder: What if?

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