The Promise of Artificial Intelligence

The Promise of Artificial Intelligence

Reckoning and Judgment

By Brian Cantwell Smith

An argument that—despite dramatic advances in the field—artificial intelligence is nowhere near developing systems that are genuinely intelligent.





An argument that—despite dramatic advances in the field—artificial intelligence is nowhere near developing systems that are genuinely intelligent.

In this provocative book, Brian Cantwell Smith argues that artificial intelligence is nowhere near developing systems that are genuinely intelligent. Second wave AI, machine learning, even visions of third-wave AI: none will lead to human-level intelligence and judgment, which have been honed over millennia. Recent advances in AI may be of epochal significance, but human intelligence is of a different order than even the most powerful calculative ability enabled by new computational capacities. Smith calls this AI ability “reckoning,” and argues that it does not lead to full human judgment—dispassionate, deliberative thought grounded in ethical commitment and responsible action. Taking judgment as the ultimate goal of intelligence, Smith examines the history of AI from its first-wave origins (“good old-fashioned AI,” or GOFAI) to such celebrated second-wave approaches as machine learning, paying particular attention to recent advances that have led to excitement, anxiety, and debate. He considers each AI technology's underlying assumptions, the conceptions of intelligence targeted at each stage, and the successes achieved so far. Smith unpacks the notion of intelligence itself—what sort humans have, and what sort AI aims at.

Smith worries that, impressed by AI's reckoning prowess, we will shift our expectations of human intelligence. What we should do, he argues, is learn to use AI for the reckoning tasks at which it excels while we strengthen our commitment to judgment, ethics, and the world.


$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262043045 184 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 12 b&w illus.


  • This is a remarkable book. It makes a plausible case for some controversial conclusions and manages to be both profound and highly accessible. It will be essential reading for serious scholars of the future of intelligence.

    Huw Price

    Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy, and Academic Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge

  • This deeply informed book offers a bilateral view of artificial intelligence from computer science and philosophical perspectives, working from good old-fashioned (first-wave) AI through (second-wave) deep learning to the imminent (third-wave) future. It provides, at exactly the right time, a rounded and thoughtful narrative that is both sobering and exciting.

    Karl Friston

    FRS, University College London

  • Brian Cantwell Smith's timely new book provides a philosophically nuanced account of the profound conceptual obstacles that still need to be overcome if we are ever to endow machines with human-level general intelligence.

    Murray Shanahan

    Professor of Cognitive Robotics, Imperial College London; author of Embodiment and the Inner Life and The Technological Singularity

  • At this critical juncture in the resurgent promise of artificial intelligence, Brian Cantwell Smith offers a technically grounded philosophical reflection on computation and human reasoning. This book is an invaluable contribution to the demystification of AI and to the reaffirmation of judgment as a condition of understanding and accountability.

    Lucy Suchman

    author of Human–Machine Reconfigurations

  • The Promise of Artificial Intelligence stands on the continental divide of AI that separates the past, based on symbol processing and syntax, from the future, based on learning and semantics grounded in sensory experience. The views are inspiring.

    Terrence Sejnowski

    Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego; Francis Crick Professor, Salk Institute