Will machines ever think?
The human mind is the most complex intelligence we know of. It represents the apex in a world filled with intellectual diversity. Perhaps because of this, most of us seem to find it exceedingly easy to dismiss any attempt to equate the behaviors of machines with intelligence.* After all, these are mere bits of metal and silicon, the descendants of clockwork dolls and mechanical calculators. But perhaps if we looked a little closer, we’d think differently.
We are far from the only biological intelligence on the planet. Primates and cetaceans are certainly intelligent, even sentient. Few of us would quibble with that. If we step back a little further, even “lower” mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians display significant intelligence. Taken a bit further, we have little problem ascribing intelligence to insects and worms, even if it is, by our standards, rudimentary.
So how far back along our ancestral line can we take this? One of the earliest multi-celled animals, cnidarians, had the first neural net, a precursor to the far more complex brains that would come later. Can we go further still? Single-celled organisms such as paramecium and cyanobacteria can move in response to light, heat and chemical gradients. Is this intelligence? The better question might be, relative to what?