ORC Seminar Series

"What do Machines Think?"

Speaker: Professor Peter Cochrane, Cochrane Associates Co-Founder, Chairman & Director, Business Angel & Consultant

Date: 15 June 2010

Time: 2pm

Venue: Mountbatten Seminar Room


All discussion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has, for decades, been mired by one important and immutable fact; we have no description, definition, quantification or measure of intelligence. We simply cannot describe or say what it is, and any attempt at an accurate comparison of systems, and especially biologically based systems, is mired and generally meaningless. The best we can do is to draw on some general concepts of neuron count and connectedness. But not understanding something doesn't mean to say we cannot use and exploit it! This situation has, in no small part, led to some discrediting of AI, which is often seen as not delivering on its early promise, or indeed in the minds of some, any promise! However, such a view is short sighted and missing the essential point that machine-based intelligence now supports the human race and all human life to an extensive degree. And this dependency isn't just in the manufacturing and aerospace sectors, our species now has a direct and growing need encompassing healthcare, food production, transportation, banking, stock trading and much more.

I think we can safely assume that if we were to switch off all the operational AI systems on the planet, our very civilization would be at great risk, and in some significant manner, it would fail!

In this presentation we examine intelligence from both a silicon (designed) and carbon (evolved) point of view, and move on to our relationship and reaction to systems that are both abstract and anthropomorphic. We then address a most fundamental question; what makes something intelligent? Surprisingly perhaps, sensors and sensory systems appear to play a far more important part than memory and processing power. This contrasts with the popular 'game show perception' which sees information recall as a measure of intelligence, which by any scientific measure, it is not!

Using a series of logical delimiters we move on to develop an incomplete (to date) measure of intelligence fundamentally based on a process originally developed by Frank Drake @ NASA to estimate the number of civilizations in our galaxy. We then hypothesise the final form of a complete descriptor for a generalized intelligence.

The material presented is low on Power Point, and high on Pics, Movies and Animations. It is also suited to lay and educated audiences, and by design it is both thought provoking and challenging on many levels.


Peter Cochrane was Head of BT Research from 1993 - 99, in 1999 he was appointed Chief Technologist. At the end of November 2000 Peter retired from BT to join his own startup company, ConceptLabs - which he founded with a group out of Apple Computers in 1998 in Silicon Valley.

In 2006 Peter moved on to form a new virtualized global operation (Cochrane Associates) to exploit the new business freedoms and opportunities afforded by the latest technologies. A graduate of Trent Polytechnic and Essex University, he was the Collier Chair for The Public Understanding of Science & Technology at The University of Bristol from 1999 to 2000. He is a Fellow of the IEE, IEEE, Royal Academy of Engineering, and a Member of the New York Academy of Sciences. He has published and lectured widely on technology and the implications of IT and was awarded an OBE in 1999 for his contribution to international communications, the IEEE Millennium Medal in 2000 and The City & Guilds Prince Philip Medal in 2001.


Copyright University of Southampton 2006