New Approach Unites Two Prevailing but Often Opposed Strains in Artificial-Intelligence Research
In the 1950s and ’60s, artificial-intelligence researchers saw themselves as trying to uncover the rules of thought. But those rules turned out to be way more complicated than anyone had imagined. Since then, artificial-intelligence (AI) research has come to rely, instead, on probabilities — statistical patterns that computers can learn from large sets of training data.
The probabilistic approach has been responsible for most of the recent progress in artificial intelligence, such as voice recognition systems, or the system that recommends movies to Netflix subscribers. But Noah Goodman, an MIT research scientist whose department is Brain and Cognitive Sciences but whose lab is Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, thinks that AI gave up too much when it gave up rules. By combining the old rule-based systems with insights from the new probabilistic systems, Goodman has found a way to model thought that could have broad implications for both AI and cognitive science.
Early AI researchers saw thinking as logical inference: if you know that birds can fly and are told that the waxwing is a bird, you can infer that waxwings can fly. One of AI’s first projects was the development of a mathematical language — much like a computer language — in which researchers could encode assertions like “birds can fly” and “waxwings are birds.” If the language was rigorous enough, computer algorithms would be able to comb through assertions written in it and calculate all the logically valid inferences. Once they’d developed such languages, AI researchers started using them to encode lots of commonsense assertions, which they stored in huge databases.
The problem with this approach is, roughly speaking, that not all birds can fly. And among birds that can’t fly, there’s a distinction between a robin in a cage and a robin with a broken wing, and another distinction between any kind of robin and a penguin. The mathematical languages that the early AI researchers developed were flexible enough to represent such conceptual distinctions, but writing down all the distinctions necessary for even the most rudimentary cognitive tasks proved much harder than anticipated.
In probabilistic AI, by contrast, a computer is fed lots of examples of something — like pictures of birds — and is left to infer, on its own, what those examples have in common. This approach works fairly well with concrete concepts like “bird,” but it has trouble with more abstract concepts — for example, flight, a capacity shared by birds, helicopters, kites and superheroes. You could show a probabilistic system lots of pictures of things in flight, but even if it figured out what they all had in common, it would be very likely to misidentify clouds, or the sun, or the antennas on top of buildings as instances of flight. And even flight is a concrete concept compared to, say, “grammar,” or “motherhood.”
Related articles by Zemanta
- Rethinking Artificial Intelligence (robotarmageddon.com)
- Artificial Intelligence: The Mauldin Test (windsofchange.net)
- Forget IQ, Collective Intelligence is the New Measure of Smart (video) (singularityhub.com)
- Group Thinker: Researcher Gets $2.9 Million to Further Develop Swarm Intelligence (innovationtoronto.com)