Hubert Dreyfus

Hubert Dreyfus has been a critic of artificial intelligence research since the 1960s. In a series of papers and books, including Alchemy and AI (1965), What Computers Can‘t Do (1972; 1979; 1992) and Mind over Machine (1986), he presented a pessimistic assessment of AI‘s progress and a critique of the philosophical foundations of the field. Dreyfus‘ objections are discussed in most introductions to the philosophy of artificial intelligence, including Russell & Norvig (2003), the standard AI textbook, and in Fearn (2007), a survey of contemporary philosophy.
Dreyfus argued that human intelligence and expertise depend primarily on unconscious instincts rather than conscious symbolic manipulation, and that these unconscious skills could never be captured in formal rules. His critique was based on the insights of modern continental philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, and was directed at the first wave of AI research which used high level formal symbols to represent reality and tried to reduce intelligence to symbol manipulation.
When Dreyfus‘ ideas were first introduced in the mid-1960s, they were met with ridicule and outright hostility. By the 1980s, however, many of his perspectives were rediscovered by researchers working in robotics and the new field of connectionism—approaches now called „sub-symbolic“ because they eschew early AI research‘s emphasis on high level symbols. In the 21st century, statistics-based approaches to machine learning simulate the way that the brain uses unconscious instincts to perceive, notice anomalies and make quick judgements. These techniques are highly successful and are currently widely used in both industry and academia. Historian and AI researcher Daniel Crevier writes: „time has proven the accuracy and perceptiveness of some of Dreyfus‘s comments.“ Dreyfus said in 2007, „I figure I won and it‘s over—they‘ve given up.“