Neural System

Voices in AI – Episode 52: A Conversation with Rao Kambhampati

About this Episode

Sponsored by Dell and Intel, Episode 52 of Voices in AI, features host Byron Reese and Rao Kambhampati discussing creativity, military AI, jobs, and more.

Subbarao Kambhampati is a professor at ASU with teaching and research interests in Artificial Intelligence.

Serving as the president of AAAI, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Visit to listen to this one-hour podcast or read the full transcript.

Transcript Excerpt

Byron Reese: This is Voices in AI, brought to you by GigaOm. I’m Byron Reese. Today my guest is Rao Kambhampati.

He has spent the last quarter-century at Arizona State University, where he researches AI. In fact, he’s been involved in artificial intelligence research for thirty years.

He’s also the President of the AAAI, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

He holds a computer science from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Welcome to the show, Rao.

Rao Kambhampati: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Artificial Intelligence-Machine Learning-Deep Learning Technologies

Q: 1

I always like to start with the same basic question, which is, what is artificial intelligence?

And so far, no two people have given me the same answer.

So you’ve been in this for a long time, so what is artificial intelligence?

Well, I guess the textbook definition is, artificial intelligence is the quest to make machines show behavior, that when shown by humans would be considered a sign of intelligence.

intelligent behavior, of course, that right away begs the question, what is intelligence?

And you know, one of the reasons we don’t agree on the definitions of AI is partly because we all have very different notions of what intelligence is.

This much is for sure; intelligence is quite multi-faceted.

You know we have the perceptual intelligence—the ability to see the world, you know the ability to manipulate the world physically—and then we have social, emotional intelligence, and of course, you have cognitive intelligence.

And pretty much any of these aspects of intelligent behavior, when a computer can show those, we would consider that it is showing artificial intelligence.

So that’s basically the practical definition I use.


Artificial Intelligence Good or Bad

Q: 2

But to say, “while there are different kinds of intelligence, therefore, you can’t define it,” is akin to saying there are different kinds of cars, therefore, we can’t define what a car is.

I mean that’s very unsatisfying. I mean, isn’t there, this word ‘intelligent’ has to mean something?

I guess there are very formal definitions.

For example, you can essentially consider an artificial agent, working in some sort of environment, and the real question is, how does it improve the long-term reward that it gets from the environment, while it’s behaving in that environment?

And whatever it does to increase its long-term reward is seen, essentially as—I mean the more reward it’s able to get in the environment, the more important it is.

I think that is the sort of definition that we use in introductory AI sorts of courses, and we talk about these notions of rational agency, and how rational agents try to optimize their long-term reward.

But that sort of gets into more technical definitions. So when I talk to people, especially outside of computer science, I appeal to their intuitions of what intelligence is, and to the extent, we have disagreements there, that sort of seeps into the definitions of AI.

AI-Artificial Intelligence Benefits & Risks

Listen to this one-hour episode or read the full transcript at


Byron explores issues around artificial intelligence and conscious computers in his new book The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity.


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