Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Behaviorism versus Artificial Intelligence

Never having taken a psych course, I know very little about behaviorism, except that it stresses observable behavior. As a scientific method it is almost a hundred years old.

However, the rise of artificial intelligence provides us with a new set of tools and approaches. These include expert systems, knowledge engineering, decision modeling and robotics. Given these tools we can ask questions like what does a horse or other animal have to understand or decide in order to do what it does?

I am particularly interested in the instinctive understanding that leads to complex behavior, many cases of which we have already discussed. My impression is that behaviorism tends to focus on relatively simple behaviors, looking for things like stimulus-response, conditioning, etc. If so then I am looking at something different.

In any case my understanding is that the behaviorist study of animals was a reaction to, and a rejection of, what was deemed anthropomorphism. This is the attribution of human characteristics to animals (among other things).

My argument here is quite the opposite, in its way. That is, I think that animals understand a great deal more than humans do, in those instinctive areas that they specialize in. That is, we humans do not understand what these animals understand.

For example, I have no idea how to build a bird nest and certainly could not find and pick the right materials to do so. I actually tried to build a beaver dam once, at a time when I was an expert on designing earth dams. It was an abject failure, because a beaver dam is much more complex structurally than a human earth dam is. Yet the beaver does it with ease and without learning from others.

Moreover, I have seen beaver dams built from a wide variety of materials, depending on what was locally available. In short the beaver knows instinctively what to do, with what it has. That is expertise.

So what I am proposing is possibly a new approach to understanding animal behavior. It is an approach that sees animals as instinctive experts in those things that mean the most to them. Things that humans do not understand.

1 comment:

  1. Certainly an interesting approach, I must give it some thought.