Okay, I’m seriously frustrated. I’ve been trying to find this McDonald’s for a while now. I know it’s nearby, but I just can’t seem to figure out where exactly it is, and it’s driving me crazy. This is a brand new experience for me—I’ve never in my life sought out a McDonald’s. I’ve also never tried to put myself in the place of a computer, or more accurately, a deep learning algorithm, to try and navigate. And I can say, it’s damn hard. Of course machines are better than humans if we go about it like this.
Let me back up—exposition is important here. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, also known as CSAIL, wanted to see if they could get computers to make decisions similar to the ones humans make in the context of our environment. For example, when we’re walking in a new city we might assess the safety level of a particular neighborhood, or when we pull off the highway in need of gas we might decide we’re more likely to find a station if we turn left rather than right at a stoplight. We might not consciously think all that hard about these decisions because we’ve made them countless times before, but our brains are actually factoring in a bunch of information, such as the state of the buildings and houses in the neighborhood or the number of people on the streets, or the direction from which we can hear street noise. We then proceed accordingly.