Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “Intelligence”


centaur 1

One consequence of finishing a paper is that there's a bit of debris left over...

the piles

Fortunately, now that my library is more organized, it's easier to reshelve:

the mess

No, seriously! Take a look:

the categories

I wuv my library. It feeds my ego. Or do I mean my head? Or both...

-the Centaur


centaur 0

So on this last paper ... I spent a year and a half working on the project, six intensive weeks implementing our software doing a crash-course implementation on a testing platform only available for a short time, put the project on hold for a bit during that whole dot-com dancing, and then spent many evenings over the last six months ... and most of the evenings over the last month ... putting together a 10,000 word paper.

End result?  I'm unsatisfied.  I feel like I and my colleagues busted our balls to get this done, and I'm satisfied with the text of the paper qua being a paper ... but scientifically, I think we'd need to put out another 50% more effort to get it up to my standards of what's really "good".  We needed to do many more evaluations (not that we could, as we lost our testbed) but even given that I think the whole paper needed to be more rigorous, more carefully thought out, more in depth.

It's like I had to work my ass off just to get it to the point where I could really see how far I had to go.


-the Centaur


centaur 0

....finished with our chapter submission to the Handbook of Research on Synthetic Emotions and Sociable Robotics.  The book won't come out for another year and a half, AFAIK, but the due date for chapters was yesterday.  Breaking my normal tradition, I'm not going to put up the abstract right now as the chapter is in for blind peer review.  For the past month this has been ... well, you don't want to hear me whine.  But trying to put out a scientific paper at the same time as blogging every day is ... bleah.  Obviously, the paper had to win.

Now, back on track.

Two great papers on experimental design by Norvig

centaur 0
So I'm working on a scientific paper that is trying to report the meagre results I got on a project that was canceled halfway through. While doing so I came across the following articles by Norvig, which hopefully will be useful in attacking my own assumptions and make the paper stronger:

Warning Signs in Experimental Design and Interpretation:

When an experimental study states "The group with treatment X had significantly less disease (p = 1%)", many people interpret this statement as being equivalent to "there is a 99% chance that treatment X prevents disease." This essay explains why these statements are not equivalent. For such an experiment, all of the following are possible:

  • X is in fact an effective treatment as claimed.
  • X is only effective for some people, in some conditions, in a way that the experiment failed to test.
  • X is ineffective, and only looked effective due to random chance.
  • X is ineffective because of a systematic flaw in the experiment.
  • X is ineffective and the experimenters and/or reader misinterpreted the results to say that it is.
There is no way to know for sure which possibility holds, but there are warning signs that can dilute the credibility of an experiment.

The companion paper:

Evaluating Extraordinary Claims: Mind Over Matter? Or Mind Over Mind?
A relative of mine recently went in for minor surgery and sent out an email that asked for supportive thoughts during the operation and thoughtfully noted that since the operation was early in the morning when I might be sleeping, that

It doesn't matter, according to Larry Dossey, M.D. in Healing Words, whether you remember to do it at the appropriate time or do it early or later. He says the action of mentally projected thought or prayer is "non-local," i.e. not dependent on distance or time, citing some 30+ experiments on human and non-human targets (including yeast and even atoms), in which recorded results showed changes from average or random to beyond-average or patterned even when the designated thought group acted after the experiment was over.

I was perplexed. On the one hand, if there really was good evidence of mind-over-matter (and operating backwards in time, no less) you'd think it would be the kind of thing that would make the news, and I would have heard about it. On the other hand, if there is no such evidence, why would seemingly sensible people like Larry Dossey, M.D. believe there was? I had a vague idea that there were some studies showing an effect of prayer and some showing no effect; I thought it would be interesting to research the field. I was concurrently working on an essay on experiment design, and this could serve as a good set of examples.

The only thing that I quibble with is the term "extraordinary" in the title of the second article. In my experience, "extraordinary" is a word people use to signal that something has challenged one of their beliefs and they're going to run it over the coals, which Norvig does with the efficacy of intercessory prayer in his article (in a very balanced and fair way I think). However, part of the point of Norvig's very evenhanded essay is that these kinds of problems can happen to you on things that you do believe:
After reading Tavris and Aronson's book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), I understand how. Dossey has staked out a position in support of efficacious prayer and mind-over-matter, and has invested a lot of his time and energy in that position. He has gotten to the point where any challenge to his position would bring cognitive dissonance: if his position is wrong, then he is not a smart and wise person; he believes he is smart and wise; therefore his position must be correct and any evidence against it must be ignored. This pattern of self-justification (and self-deception), Tavris and Aronson point out, is common in politics and policy (as well as private life), and it looks like Dossey has a bad case. Ironically, Dossey is able to recognize this condition in other people -- he has a powerful essay that criticizes George W. Bush for saying "We do not torture" when confronted with overwhelming evidence that in fact Bush's policy is to torture. I applaud this essay, and I agree that Bush has slipped into self-deception to justify himself and ward off cognitive dissonance. Just like Dossey. Dossey may have a keen mind, but his mind has turned against itself, not allowing him to see what he doesn't want to see. This is a case of mind over mind, not mind over matter.
So, at least as working scientists are concerned, I would suggest Norvig's second essay should be retitled "Evaluating Claims."

Or put another way, with all due respect to Carl Sagan, I think "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is a terrible way to think for a scientist: it prompts you to go around challenging all the things you disagree with. In contrast, I think claims require evidence, and for a scientist you must start at home with the things you're most convinced of, because you're least likely to see your own claims as extraordinary.

This is the most true, of course, for papers you're trying to get published. Time to review my results and conclusions sections...


Pleasure and Pain, Fiction and Science

centaur 0
I really enjoy writing fiction, but I find writing science painful. And I just realized one reason why: stories are narratives, and since I write stories in chunks of scenes, the incomplete narrative can still be absorbingly interesting - like surfing past a few seconds of a movie on TV.

But papers are hybrid beasts: they report data and argue about what we can conclude from it. Since I write papers by core dumping my data then refining the argument, what I'm subjecting myself to when I edit my paper is a poorly argued jumble based on a quasi-random collection of facts.  It's not all bad - I do work from an outline and plan - but an outline is not an argument.

This hit home to me recently when I was working on a paper on some until-now unreported work on robot pets I did about ten years ago. Early drafts of the paper had a solid abstract and extensive outline from our paper proposal, and into this outline I poured a number of technical reports and partially finished papers. The result? Virtual migraine!

But after I got about 90% of the paper done, I had a brainflash about a better abstract, which in turn suggested a new outline. My colleagues agreed, so I replaced the abstract and reorganized the paper. Now the paper was organized around our core argument, rather than around the subject areas we were reporting on, which involved lots of reshuffling but little rewriting.

The result? Full of win. The paper's not done, not by a long shot, but the first half reads much more smoothly, and, more importantly, I can clearly look at all the later sections and decide what parts of the paper need to stay, what parts need to go, and what parts need to be moved and/or merged with other sections. There are a few weak spots, but I'm betting if I take the time to sit down and think about our argument and let that drive the paper that I will be able to clean it up right quick.

Hopefully this will help, going forward. Here goes...

 -the Centaur

Worthy of human treatment …

centaur 1

Once as a child I asked a Jesuit whether dolphins should be treated like people if they turned out to be intelligent.  I think I phrased it in terms of the question "whether they had souls", but regardless the Jesuit's answer was immediate and clear: yes, they have souls (and, by implication, should be treated like people) if they had two things - intellect and will.  Years later I read enough Aquinas to understand what he meant.  But when I tried to regurgitate my understanding of these concepts for this essay, as partially digested by my thinking on artificial intelligence, I found that what came up were new concepts, and that I no longer cared what Aquinas thought, other than to give him due credit for inspiring my ideas.

So, in my view, the two properties that a sentient being needs to be treated with respect due to other sentients are:

  • Intellect: the ability to understand the world in terms of a universal system of conceptual structures

  • Will: the ability to select a conceptual description of a desired behavior and to regulate one's behavior to match it

In this view, part of the reason that we treat animals like animals is that their intellects are weak and as a consequence their wills almost nonexistent.  While animals can learn basic concepts and do basic reasoning tasks, it's extraordinarily difficult for them to put what they can learn into larger structures that describe their world - for example, it takes years of intensive training for chimps to learn the basic language competencies a human child gets in eighteen to twenty four months.  Without the ability to put together "universal" structures that describe behavior, your cat can't describe behaviors much more sophisticated than "I'm not allowed in the art studio" and hence is vulnerable to all sorts of hazards and prone to all sorts of misbehavior because they simply can't understand that, for example, it's not a good idea to go out after 2am since their owners won't be awake to let them in.

Similarly, children are wards of their parents because they haven't yet learned the conceptual structures of what they should do, and lack the self-regulation to guide themselves to follow what they have learned.  Violent criminals become wards of the state for the same reason - either they didn't realize that it was a bad idea to hurt their fellow man, or more likely didn't bother to regulate themselves to achieve it.  A similar problem occurs for a variety of neurodiverse people who, for one reason or other, are not able to regulate their behaviors well enough to manage their lives without the assistance of a caregiver (though having various kinds of self-regulatory dysfunctions is not necessarily a sign that someone does not have a sophisticated intellect, and there are a number of autistic people who would argue that we are too quick to discriminate; but I digress).

Regardless, so intellect and will are ideas that bump around in my head a lot.  Can something understand the world it's in in abstract terms, and figure out its relationship to it?  And given that understanding, can it decide what kind of life it should lead, and can it then actually follow that life?  Anything that can do that gets a free pass towards being treated with respect - if you have those fundamental capabilities I'm inclined to treat you like a fellow sentient until and unless you prove me wrong.

We may seem to have gotten pretty far from souls here.  But for the Christians in the audience, think about intellect and will for a moment.  Something that had intellect could learn who Jesus was, and something with will could decide whether or not to follow him.  And it wouldn't matter whether that was a neurotypical person, an autistic person, a talking dolphin or an intelligent machine.  For the atheists in the audience, this may be an easier sell, but the point actually is still the same: something with a truly universal intellect could evaluate a system of beliefs that it was presented, and with a selfregulatory will decide whether or not it was going to agree and/or follow that system of beliefs.

Thinking out loud here...

-the Centaur

I’ve heard memory is unreliable but this takes the cake…

centaur 1
Researching another story I came across this tidbit:

Eyewitness Memory is Unreliable
Australian eyewitness expert Donald Thomson appeared on a live TV discussion about the unreliability of eyewitness memory. He was later arrested, placed in a lineup and identified by a victim as the man who had raped her. The police charged Thomson although the rape had occurred at the time he was on TV. They dismissed his alibi that he was in plain view of a TV audience and in the company of the other discussants, including an assistant commissioner of police. The policeman taking his statement sneered, "Yes, I suppose you've got Jesus Christ, and the Queen of England, too." Eventually, the investigators discovered that the rapist had attacked the woman as she was watching TV - the very program on which Thompson had appeared. Authorities eventually cleared Thomson. The woman had confused her rapist's face with the face the she had seen on TV. (quote taken from Baddeley's Your Memory: A User's Guide).

It simply staggers my imagination that someone testifying about unreliable eyewitnesses would then get accused of something by an unreliable witness ... who herself had been watching him talk about unreliable witnesses and got confused!


Artificial Intelligence, Briefly

centaur 0

Who am I?  What do I do?  Why?

I am an artificial intelligence researcher.

I study human and other minds to aid in the design of intelligent machines and emotional robots.

I believe emotions are particularly important for robots because, unlike intelligent machines which normally run as computational processes on a general computer maintained by some other agent, robots have physical bodies with physical needs that they themselves are in part responsible for - and an emotional system's functions are to evaluate how our current situation meets our needs, to trigger quick reactions to get us out of harm, and to motivate us to pursue long-term actions to improve our lot.

I pursue artificial intelligence because right here, right now its techniques help me construct better software artifacts and deepen my understanding of the human condition, and because I hope that creating human level intelligence and beyond will improve the lot of human kind and further the progress of sentient life.

I think these things often, but I never say them.  Time to change that.


The Cloning Machine Has Gone Wild

centaur 0
Zounds! Even more rogue clones!

Actually,this is from an article on Mixing Memory about how you can get an illusion analogous to the Thatcher illusion with negatives.

Again, these two pairs of faces are the same, except the top two are negatives. The one on the top-left (a) is the pure negative, which Antis describes as being "analogous to an upside-down face." The one on the top-right (b) is negative except for the eyes and teeth, which are positive. This is analogous to the "Thatcherized" face (the one with the inverted mouth and eyes). The bottom two faces were created by reversing the contrast of the top two faces. Thus the bottom-left face (c) is normal, and the bottom-right face (d) is normal except for negative teeth and yes. Now the contrast between the positive face with two negative features makes for a hideous, zombie-like ex-PM (I keep waiting for lightning bolts to come out of his eyes), not unlike the upright Thatcherized face in its grotesqueness. And that's the Tony Blair illusion.

The original Margaret Thatcher illusion is just as startling:

Look at the image below. You will notice some little differences, but they hardly trigger your brain to notice them... but wait! If we flip this same image, you will see the differences are anything, but "unnoticable"!

I'm told the judges would also have accepted "Proof Tony Blair is a Vampire" or "Famous British Politicains Get Possessed" as titles for this post.
-the Centaur

Large-Scale Semantic Networks

centaur 0
Recently as both a followon to my thesis research and as a part of my work for the Search Engine That Starts With A G, I've been investigating a number of papers on graph theory as applied to semantic networks and Web link graphs. This work isn't "new" per se, since these models and techniques for graph analysis go back years if not decades, but it's only recently - when vast real-world networks have become available in machine-readable form along with the computer power necessary to analyze them - that enough work has been done to illuminate how important it is to analyze the properties of networks in detail.

One of the most interesting papers I've encountered so far was The Structure and Function of Complex Networks, a survey of mathematical and empirical studies of networks that I had wish had been available when I was doing my thesis work. The most important result I think to come out of recent graph theory is that simple uniform and random models of networks don't tell the whole story - now, we have new mathematical tools for modeling a wide range of graph architectures, such as:

  • Small World Networks. A traditional graph model says nothing about how far you may need to travel to find an arbitrary node in the graph. Think of square tiles on a floor - each tile is connected to four others, but the number of steps needed to reach any tile is a function of the distance. But anyone who's played the parlor game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" knows that real-world human relationships aren't arranged this way: everyone is connected to everyone else in the world by a very short chain of relationships - on average, you can reach almost anyone in the world in only six or seven handshakes. This shows up in graph analysis as the "mean geodesic distance" between two nodes in a graph, and is an important property we should measure about our networks as they grow to determine what kind of network structure we are really dealing with. At the very least, a random graph structure shows small-world properties more similar to real-world graphs than uniform graphs, and we should consider using them over uniform models as a basis for analyses.

  • Scale-Free Networks. Both uniform networks - where every node has the same link structure - and random networks - where nodes are connected at random to each other across the graph - have a definite scale or rough average size. Nodes in a random graph are like people: each one is unique, but their heights are distributed over a defnite scale so there are few people shorter than three feet and no people taller than nine. Real world networks don't have this definite scale: instead, they look the "same" no matter what size scale you're looking at. Nodes in a real world graph are like the distribution of city sizes: for every city there are four times as many cities at half that size. This shows up technically in the "degree distribution": the statistical pattern of the number of links on each node. This will no doubt have significant effects on processes operating over networks like spreading activation.

There are more issues in graph theory than I can readily summarize, including issues like resilience to deletion, models of growth, and so on; many of which are directly relevant to studies of semantic networks and processes that operate over them.

Another paper, The Large-Scale Structure of Semantic Networks, applies these techniques to real-world semantic network models drawn from sources such as WordNet and Roget's Thesaurus. This paper, like the survey article Graph Theoretic Modeling of Large Scale Semantic Networks, seems to find that real semantic networks have scale-free, small-world properties that aren't found in the simpler mathematical models that people such as Francis (cough) used in his thesis.

SO, anyone interested in semantic networks or spreading activation as a tool for modeling human cognition or as a representation scheme for an intelligent system would do well to follow up on these references and begin an analysis of their systems based on these "new" techniques (many of which have been around for a while, but sadly hadn't reached everyone in the semantic network community (or, at least, hadn't reached me) until more recently.

So check them out!
-the Centaur