Artificial Intelligence > AI: Defining Understanding

AI: Defining Understanding

By LEONARD MCGAVIN
Published: June 4, 2008

The concept of "understanding" is a problematic one to define. Defining "Intelligence" and "learning" are also problematic. However, it is possible examine where they appear to come from and what they consist of. All terms are concepts of the mind and have general associations in everyday language. Care must be taken not jump to false conclusions due to their associations.

In trying to define understanding let's start with what we have...

Are individual humans the only entities that currently have the power of understanding?

It is uncertain if humans are the only entities with the power of understanding. When we look at other species we see signs of intelligence and possibly understanding but because we don't know what understanding is and how to truly identify it we are only left guessing. If you look at a pack wild dog or apes, it is possible to identify a leader in the pack. The other members in the pack seem to understand who the leader is and adjust their actions to suit this understanding. Is this a sign of real understanding? If it is, which animal species display these properties and which do not? Also, are there also more subtle communications between animals that we do not perceive which carry the same level of understanding?

If we accept that other species have the power of understanding, where is the line in the gene pool that says "this species has the ability to understand but this other species does not"? How can we make such claims? We cannot fully communicate with these other species and hence we cannot share their level of understanding or observe their understanding.

As we begin to look at understanding it seems like a large gray area and is based on a lot of subjectivity. Perhaps understanding is the illusion that is created when a new neural path is made in an entity and a change in behavior can be observed. If this is the case, the world is currently jam-packed full of understanding as this is a very broad statement.

Google's search engine (or any other web search engine) could already be described as having understanding according to the description above. Almost anyone would reject this claim but the definition of understanding is going to have to be fairly broad to encompass all the different ways it is perceived. If the definition is too limiting it will leave out many important factors and could easily guide anyone working in AI down the wrong path.

Any Comments?


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