“Whatever Machines Haven’t Done Yet”

Larry Tesler, former chief scientist at Apple and the primary inventor of modeless editing and cut, copy, paste, is the creator of Tesler’s theorem, or “Intelligence is whatever machines haven’t done yet”.

Alicia Vikander in the film Ex Machina

This is also known as the AI effect, which Wikipedia defines as occurring “when onlookers discount the behavior of an artificial intelligence program by arguing that it is not real intelligence”. With this in mind, are we building AI?


No. And yes.

Internally, we hardly ever talk about our core software as AI. We think of it as a biologically-inspired, self-organizing software ecosystem that exhibits emergent behaviors in the process of solving challenging problems. (Okay, we don’t talk exactly like that, but it’s close.)

So no, it’s not AI. It’s a tool. A tool with a simple idea at its core but offering great power and flexibility. And yet…

If you read the “Aunt Hillary” entry earlier on this blog, you’ll know that in the dialogue written by Douglas Hofstadter, an ant hill is presented as something much more than the sum of its constituent ants. In an ant hill, ants come together and self-organize within the context of their surrounding ecosystem (and the micro-ecosystem they themselves create), and display emergent behavior while solving problems far beyond the capacity of any individual ant to tackle. And Hofstadter uses the ant hill as a metaphor for the human brain.

So yes, it’s AI, at least when compared to a reasonable analogy for how the human brain works.

Image credit: Alicia Vikander in the the 2015 film Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland.