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20 Aug Two Rights and a Village: Social Communication

To Win a Point

When we communicate, we often use persuasive language and/or logic to win a point. This happens all the time in political campaigns. As an example, the conservative presidential campaign recently took umbrage when the liberal incumbent stated that successful entrepreneurs need a community of people to succeed. The conservatives felt that the statement slighted the huge individual effort required of entrepreneurs to start a successful business. Being a serial entrepreneur, I can attest to the fact that both are right in the context of the US free market: I have exerted tremendous effort and sacrifice to succeed, and I could not have done it without people who shared my vision: co-founders, investors, buyers, lenders and (least helpful, but nonetheless essential), the government that permits me to operate.

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Section 6 #11

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Table of Context


There was a similar conflict between parties regarding raising children. A popular politician borrowed a proverb from African cultures: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Opposing politicians countered that it takes dedicated parents to raise a child. Once again, both parties are completely correct in the context of modern American society. Kids with dedicated parents are statistically more likely succeed than those without, and the community contributes much to kids’ development, learning and socialization. It’s not a toss-up: both the individual and the community perspectives are correct.

The Context of Social Communication

Why is this discussion important in the context of this blog? Here are a few ideas:

  • Language and logic can be very tricky, and people interested in winning arguments often use correct logical premises to support false conclusions – thus a system cannot be expected to judge the accuracy of logic without knowing alot about everything.
  • Individuals that exist in the context of a society, cannot safely divorce many things from their social context. Attempted isolation is seldom completely successful with humans.
  • For a computer to successfully interpret any human communication, broader community issues and subtext must be considered.
  • All communicative acts are social: there is no understanding that exists outside of social communication.
  • Any automated system that can accurately and broadly understand a person’s intent must model social factors.
  • We severely limit the potential of our systems by defining their capabilities too narrowly – our brains can do it so I see no reason why we shouldn’t teach our systems to do it too.

Dialog ChaliceI have mentioned in prior posts about “whole body cognition” in which I suggested that cognition involves more than just the brain. This adds kinesthesia, touch and physical activity to the context of cognition. Similarly, communication cannot be isolated to the brain, mouth and ears. Communication is a social phenomenon that is extremely socially context-sensitive. Often it is critical to focus narrowly, and political discussion is helpful and constructive. Indeed, friendly argument drives progress in our society. Sometimes it is necessary to expand our views beyond the obvious focal points. Often, it takes a village.

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