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Did Aristotle have a cell phone?

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Strachey Lecture, a termly series in the University of Oxford’s Computer Science department. The speaker was Professor Leslie Valiant, a distinguished figure in the field, and his subject was “Can one Define Intelligence as a Computational Phenomenon?”.

To be fair, a good deal went over my head but I could grasp one of the questions posed: did Aristotle have a cell phone? That probably seems fairly easy to answer but, in a talk around aspects of artificial intelligence, it pays to consider the deeper question that lies behind it: how did you get to your answer?

I think the answer is no, because Aristotle lived millennia ago and cell phones have been invented in my lifetime. What I’m not doing is drawing on a vast database of all cell phone subscribers. Instead, I’m instinctively jumping into time comparisons because Aristotle makes me think ‘ancient’ and cell phones make me think ‘modern’. I’m also making the assumption that Aristotle is the Ancient Greek philosopher and not a modern person, because he was quoted a few slides earlier.

If you have a strong reason for thinking the answer is yes, meet me twenty years ago and tell me about your time machine….

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