AI has undeniably made progress; systems like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion are impressive, surprising, and fun to play with. We can all agree on that.
But can the current state of AI be criticized? A lot of recent media accounts have tried to stick AI critics in a little box. Scientists like the linguist Emily Bender and the computer scientist Melanie Mitchell have rightly pushed back on that. Mitchell, for example, wrote yesterday, and I agree with every word:
What provoked Mitchell’s tweet? In no small part it was (as she acknowledged later) a recent Substack post by the writer and scientist Erik Hoel, “How AI's critics end up serving the AIs”, which claims in its subtitle to be discussing “ the obscuring effects of AI criticism”. Needless to say, a lot of people don’t like AI criticism, and the essay has gotten a fair bit of traffic. If you are impressed with current AI and don’t want anyone to spoil your fun, I recommend it.
From the outset, I could tell that the 4,200 word long piece was not going to be fair. In the introduction, for example, Hoel tries to paint me as a dilettante, “Marcus hit on this topic [AI] after searching around for a few different ones over the years, ranging from a nonfiction book on how he learned to play the guitar to his book on evolutionary psychology, Kluge”, entirely neglecting the fact that my 1993 MIT PhD dissertation was on child language acquisition, generalization, and neural networks – which is exactly what I am writing on today, nearly 30 years later. He also neglects my book The Algebraic Mind, a 2001 book that Luis Lamb and Artur Garcez credit as a major inspiration for their own pioneering work on neurosymbolic AI. 1 (Yes, it’s true I spent my 2009 sabbatical learning to play guitar, and wrote about it. Sue me.)