Monday, March 30, 2015

Representing instinctive knowledge

Given that an instinct is an inherited body of expert knowledge, we should be able to apply the methods of artificial intelligence to build a model of an instinct. Such a model might tell us interesting and useful things about the behavior of the critters in question, such as horses.

For those who are not familiar with these methods, here are some short, non-technical introductory readings. The field itself involves a lot of math and many of the articles linked to from these Wikipedia articles are much more technical. 

Knowledge representation is the core field.

Knowledge engineering is the method for uncovering the knowledge.

Expert systems are examples of how knowledge based decision making can be modeled.

I have been involved with this stuff since I was on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University in the 1970's. In fact I worked with some of the pioneers, especially Herb Simon, who got a Nobel prize in 1978.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dogs and Cats (and skillful affection)

Dogs and cats seem to be a difficult case and I have been wondering why. There seem to be at least two reasons. First, their behavior is so tied up with ours that it is hard to see the instincts at work. Second, a lot of what is instinctive is not thought of as knowledge based.

The whole point of domestication is to work well with humans, so this is the focus of the instincts. For dogs and cats these instincts include affection (giving and seeking), obedience, trust, loyalty, companionship, etc. There are others, like play, warning and defense with dogs, or hunting with cats.

In humans the traits of affection, obedience, trust, loyalty, etc., are not thought of as knowledge based, so we also do not see them that way in dogs and cats. This is probably because they are instincts in humans.

But in fact each of these activities involves a great deal of decision making and therefore requires considerable skill, which means expertise. The same is true of horses and other domestic animals, but perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree.

For example, it is not enough to want to be affectionate (whatever that might mean), one also has to know how to do it. When it comes to dealing with humans, the differences between wild and domestic animals are dramatic. Domestic behavior is highly complex, requiring a lot of skill.

As my wife puts it, dogs are professional people pleasers. Most do it well. The research question is what do they have to know in order to do this well? It is not a simple question, by any means.