Why am I obligated to show that I am no smarter than a machine?

I attended an internal talk a few weeks ago (not sure whether I should disclose the presenter’s name). It was about a new technology, but the point in the talk that I appreciate the most is that the goal of this technology is to make valuable findings, rather than automation.

Here is my thought along this line. It seems that automation is an important metric that many people use consciously or unconsciously to evaluate research contributions in all areas in computer science. It doesn’t matter how surprising/novel/insightful your findings are, people care very much about whether your thinking process was automated; it doesn’t matter how challenging it is to analyze real-world systems due to their messiness, people care very much about whether neat models extracted from real systems can be automatically checked, but forget about the intelligence for obtaining these models. At least, such an intelligence is not considered science, because it is not automated.

Why is that? Why do we believe so deeply that ONLY automated thinking is science? Why do we devalue so much the very portion of human’s superior intelligence that machines cannot mimic? Other science communities do not have such a belief. Did people criticize Newton’s laws of motion because Newton didn’t come up with them mechanically, but relied on many empirical experiments and his smart brain? I believe that the real science is advanced by HUMAN’s intuition and creativity. A scientist’s goal is to show discoveries that surprise the world. He/she does not have the obligation to show that such cool discoveries would have been made by a robot as well.

Most of us agree that computers are fundamentally dumb machines, regardless of how science fictions depict them. There is nothing wrong for a scientist to be smarter than a machine. Perhaps the mindset of “only automatable thinking is science” is hurting our field, because it boosts so many papers containing mediocre-yet-automatable ideas, and knocks out others containing insightful human thoughts.

I told my daughter that I am a “computer scientist”. Now this phrase looks very confusing to me. Maybe I should call myself simply a “scientist”, which makes it clear that I am still a human being.

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3 Responses to Why am I obligated to show that I am no smarter than a machine?

  1. Zhou Li says:

    Maybe that’s because lots of computer scientists run their brain like machine. If your approach contains an automated tool, they can run their brain to test it. The manual but intelligent way doesn’t fit their brain:(

    • Shuo Chen says:

      Testability of scientific discovery is not specific to computer science. In physics or other discplines, you also need to tell people how to test your discoveries. However, it is unique in computer science that people also demand you to show that the thinking process leading to your discoveries is automatable. Otherwise, they will say tag your discoveries as unscientific.

  2. Zhiyun Qian says:

    I have a slightly different impression. It seems to me that computer science people are not really devaluing “finding processes” that were not automated. In my opinion, finding process naturally is a creative process that may not be automated. However, it is nice to automate the process once it is discovered so that the process can be applied mechanically to solve similar problems.

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