10 Questions Reveal The Limits Of AI

Chunka Mui
4 min readFeb 23, 2017

AI developers are making amazing advances. But, having a clear-eyed view of what AI can and cannot do is key to making good decisions about this disruptive technology — and leaving the irrational exuberance to others.

Witness the excitement around AI’s progress in search, cancer diagnosis, genomic medicine, autonomous vehicles, Go, smart homes, machine translation, and even lip reading.

Progress in such complex problems raises hopes for the development of general-purpose AI that can be deployed in a wide range of intelligent, open-ended interactions with people like computer interface, customer service, planning and advice.

It is easy to imagine an enhanced Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa or IBM Watson that engages in conversations with people to answer questions, fulfill commands and even anticipate needs. In fact, unless you watch marketing videos with a very critical eye (like the latest one for Alexa shown below), you might even believe that AI has already reached this point.

Unfortunately, AI is far from this level of intelligence. AI lacks the capability to understand, much less answer, many kinds of easy questions that we might pose to human assistants, agents, advisors and friends.

Imagine asking this question of some AI-enhanced tool in the foreseeable future:

I am thinking about driving to New York from my home in Vermont next week. What do you think?

Most such tools will easily offer a wealth of data, like possible routes, including distances, travel times, attractions, rest stops, and restaurants. Some might incorporate historical traffic patterns for different times of day and even weather forecasts to recommend particular routes.

But, as the noted AI researcher Roger Schank smartly lays out in a recent article, there are many aspects of this question that AI tools will not address adequately any time soon — but that any person could easily do so now.

Roger Schank

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Chunka Mui

Futurist and Innovation Advisor. I try to carry out Alan Kay’s exhortation that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”