Will Computers Ever Know Everything?
An essay in Science magazine by Andrew Hodges, the dean of Wadham College at Oxford University, suggests that Alan Turingâ€™s greatest contribution was defining the limits of what computers can â€œknowâ€â€”that is, what is computable. By formalizing the computability question in 1936, Turing illuminated the deeper issue of what humans could know: Is our knowledge limited in the same way as computers? Or do we have some sort of mental â€œintuitionâ€ (Turingâ€™s word) that supersedes the power of mere machinery?
]Three quarters of a century later, weâ€™re not much closer to an answer. Even in this age of â€œbig data,â€ where computers churn through gobs of information to come up with cannily humanlike responses, humans are far better at everyday tasks like making sense of a scene. Artificial intelligence remains a dream. Turingâ€™s work on computability led to an even deeper question, according to Hodges: â€œDoes computation with discrete symbols give a complete account of the physical world?â€ In other words, is the world computable? Can a machine, in principle, rise not just to the intellectual capabilities of human beings, but supersede those capabilities? Can a computer know everything?