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5 months ago
A New Approach to Computation Reimagines Artificial Intelligence

Originally published in QuantaMagazine, April 13, 2023.

Despite the wild success of ChatGPT and other large language models, the artificial neural networks (ANNs) that underpin these systems might be on the wrong track.

For one, ANNs are “super power-hungry,” said Cornelia Fermüller, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland. “And the other issue is [their] lack of transparency.” Such systems are so complicated that no one truly understands what they’re doing, or why they work so well. This, in turn, makes it almost impossible to get them to reason by analogy, which is what humans do — using symbols for objects, ideas and the relationships between them.

Such shortcomings likely stem from the current structure of ANNs and their building blocks: individual artificial neurons. Each neuron receives inputs, performs computations and produces outputs. Modern ANNs are elaborate networks of these computational units, trained to do specific tasks.

Yet the limitations of ANNs have long been obvious. Consider, for example, an ANN that tells circles and squares apart. One way to do it is to have two neurons in its output layer, one that indicates a circle and one that indicates a square. If you want your ANN to also discern the shape’s color — blue or red — you’ll need four output neurons: one each for blue circle, blue square, red circle and red square. More features mean even more neurons.

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