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05 Mar Decide on Fuzzy Logic

FiddlerIn this section of Understanding Context, we describe not just how people think, but how they use their thoughts to guide their actions. We are particularly concerned with how people integrate multiple ideas or constraints into their thinking and decision-making processes, then put those decisions into action. It is sometimes said that the difference between information and knowledge is that knowledge is a basis for action, without the further analysis information requires: it’s actionable. The more constraints we add, the more difficult it becomes to arrive at a judgement or decision. This is particularly true when some of the ideas or constraints compete, and competing objectives, paradoxes, and “Catch 22s” are all around us. Remember Tevye, the Papa in Fiddler on the Roof? He had to repeatedly weigh competing objectives: tradition on the one hand, and the love he had for his daughters and concern for their future happiness on the other.

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Section 5 #10

Fuzzy Logic Icon

 

Table of Context

 

Research is showing us more and more about the complexity of our thinking processes. Shankar Vedantam, a science reporter for National Public Radio shares fascinating insights over the radio in addition to his writing (including The Hidden Brain). He reports on a comedian, Robert Lynch, studying people’s responses to different humorous concepts: “People’s implicit beliefs, unconscious beliefs and preferences, matched what they found funny,” Lynch says. “If I’m writing a joke, often what I do is I look at things that I think are true, that people tend not to admit to, or maybe reluctant to admit to, including myself. A joke, in other words, is like a little brain scan: When we laugh, we reveal what’s inside us.” Lynch thinks evolution may have hardwired a sense of humor into our species because laughter serves as a signal. When you and I laugh at the same joke, we signal to each other that we share the same values, the same beliefs. This may be why people all over the world want friends and romantic partners who share their sense of humor (NPR Blog). The subtext of values and beliefs affects the way we perceive, think and decide.

Implicit Beliefs

Another factor that makes thinking and decision making more difficult is the absence of information that may be helpful or critical. We are continually required to make decisions based on incomplete information. Fortunately, we are often very good at doing this. None of us can see the future, yet we often make predictions based on past observations, current trends, and other information. Parents, politicians, and planners of all stripes continually predict the future and make decisions based on memory of the past, knowledge of the present, and extremely abstract ideas of what may or may not happen down the road.

Understanding the software (psychology) of thinking will help us design new computer software that can think.

Logic and Other Fuzzy Myths

The study of logic, including the fuzzy kind, has been popular since before the ancient Greek philosophers started attacking it. Logic study is still a booming business, although its use is limited to very small segments of society. My next few posts will concentrate on common sense (another deficit commodity) as an example of logical analysis and attempts to show how a computer model might be designed to imitate these patented human processes.

Part of the mythology is that – aside from binary and boolean logic – logical reasoning skills are not yet available for any computers in credible quantities. Another part of the mythology is that logic is what we humans use when we think. Sometimes intuitive solutions can seem illogical, yet prove to be the better solutions. At other times, logic leads to a sense of hopelessness because of competing objectives or paradoxes.

Diamond in the Sky Paradox

Advanced reasoning skills, like those of diplomats disentangling motivations of foreign leaders, and lovers trying to understand the ways of the opposite gender, do not even appear on the automation horizon. That problem may soon be remedied: one objective of the Understanding Context blog is to make AI accessible to the masses, helping to catalyze solutions.

Admittedly, it will not be easy to give mechanical systems brains that are as smart and logical as ours (or the Vulcan, Spock’s). But we may be able to do so if we can understand how humans (and Vulcans) think.

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