MS Capstone Excerpt: Artificial Intelligence

The following text is an excerpt from the introduction and conclusion to Artificial Intelligence, Christine Ruhe’s Capstone paper.  The Capstone Project is a compulsory, in-depth research project that allows every 8th-grade student to explore, write about and present on his/her passion.  In much the same way that we have featured a series of Global Thesis Updates from our 12th-grade researchers, over the next couple of weeks our hope is to highlight some of the insightful, globally oriented work that is coming out of the Capstone program.

By: Christine Ruhe, 8th Grade

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the branch of science focused on machines and technology that can perform intelligent behaviors. Intelligence is defined as “the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge.”[1]  Computers have always been able to acquire knowledge, the novel aspect of artificial intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge and learn new things from it.  It is a unique science; a mixture of philosophy, physiology and computer science.  The technology of Artificial Intelligence will have a great, positive effect on society by making the world safer, more informed, and more easily accessible.  As with many great innovations, the fear of change can evoke an uncertainty about the outcome of artificial intelligence; but the claims that this technology will be more harmful to society than it will be good are unwarranted.

There are two approaches to AI; the top down approach and the bottom up approach.  The bottom up approach is more effective and will provide the opportunity for more innovation than the top down approach.[2] The top down approach is to use expert systems to formulate rules, and to use software to recreate or mimic human brain function. [3]  The goal is to build electronic brains resembling the complicated neural networks of the human brain.  Brains have millions of neurons and are seen as one of the most complex mechanisms known to modern science.  Recreating this when scientists are not even completely sure how human brains work would be a miracle.  Neurons pass electrical signals through networks; they are devices for processing information such as numbers.[4]  Although this approach has proved useful in the past, it is less and less applicable to the challenges that current artificial intelligence faces.

The bottom up theory is based on the idea that if it took millions of years to develop the complicated brains that humans have now, it is futile to try to replicate that in a very short period of time.  Scientists are studying simpler organisms and working their up to eventually an intelligent brain.  This theory is more practical and will allow for a better understanding of AI to the scientists working with this method.


New AI is being developed to approach old problems with a new perspective; normally the bottom up approach, but even with this new approach, new inventions will still come slowly.   Once computer scientists figure out the proper approach for the obstacles they face, it becomes much easier to solve the problems.  In the future, it is unlikely that humans and computers will ever reach the same level of emotional capacity and understanding of the nuances of modern languages.  To prepare for a time when computers become closer to a human’s equal, it is necessary to be open to the change.  An incredible advancement in the field of AI will be the implementation of AI in spacecrafts.

NASA is moving forward in AI and this will lead to great strides in space exploration.  “Until recently, interplanetary robotic explorers have largely been marionettes of mission controllers back on Earth. The controllers sent instructions, and the spacecraft diligently executed them. But as missions go farther and become more ambitious, long-distance puppetry becomes less and less practical. If dumb spacecraft will not work, the answer is to make them smarter. Artificial intelligence will increasingly give spacecraft the ability to think for themselves,” says Kenneth Chang of the New York Times.[5]  Space probes will be able to perform functions that previously couldn’t be done.  These programs will eliminate some of the enormous cost of having manned spacecrafts, making more trips possible to gather more and more information about outer space.[6]  Intelligent crafts will make fewer and less costly mistakes because it reduces the risk of human error.  These crafts will also require less fuel and be smaller and more aerodynamic than a “dumb” spaceship.  These discoveries could eventually lead to finding another life supporting planet.  Some of these technologies are already in use on missions but NASA is developing even more AI enabled spacecrafts so space travel becomes less expensive, more efficient and potentially makes discoveries that couldn’t be made before.

Artificial Intelligence has been, is, and will continue to be a positive source of innovation for human society.  Computers have played a huge role in the advancement of society, whether early computers or technological masterpieces like Watson.  Due to AI, space will become more accessible to NASA, and one day there will be missions to a galaxy many light years away.  Information gathered from missions like this could help humans understand the characteristics of life itself, using other planets as a conduit.  Google is a quick and convenient source of knowledge, due to its complicated algorithm.  Siri is an example of the potential for future AI, a program that takes complicated voice commands and turns them into action.  Even though the science takes a while to develop, one should expect great things of artificial intelligence in the near future.

[1] “Intelligence” Def 1. Random House Dictionary, Random House Inc. 2011

[2] “Methods to Creating Intelligence”

<; November 14, 2011.

[3] Expert systems are programs that use inferences and available information to make decisions.  This is useful in the fields of manufacturing and finance.

[4] “Methods to Creating Intelligence”

[5]Chang, Kenneth.  The New York Times. “Intelligent Beings in Space” May 30, 2006.

[6] Mulhall, Douglas.  Our Molecular Future. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002.  Page 93

MS Capstone Excerpt: Artificial Intelligence

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