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Friday, March 01, 2019

Kids’ brains may hold the secret to building better AI | Future Perfect - Vox.com

Kids can give programmers useful hints about directions for computer learning, psychologist Alison Gopnik, argues.

Photo: Javier Zarracina/Vox; Getty Images


The mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing hit on a promising direction for artificial intelligence research way back in 1950. “Instead of trying to produce a program to simulate the adult mind,he wrote, “why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s?”

Now AI researchers are finally putting Turing’s ideas into action. They’re realizing that by paying attention to how children process information, they can pick up valuable lessons about how to create machines that learn.

DARPA, the Defense Department’s advanced research agency, is embracing this approach. It recently invited proposals from interdisciplinary teams of computer scientists and developmental psychologists, which will work to create AI systems capable of learning the things babies learn in the first few years of life.

To the developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, this approach is the obvious way to go. She explains why in an essay titled “AIs Versus Four-Year-Olds,” which appears in the new anthology Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI. Noting that preschoolers can learn things even the most sophisticated AIs can’t, Gopnik argues that studying kids can give programmers useful hints about directions for computer learning.  

I was drawn to Gopnik’s essay not only because of the catchy title, but also because she and I both majored in philosophy at McGill University (three decades apart), and because her piece is one of only three in the book written by women. The fact that women represent 12 percent of contributions to the anthology mirrors the gender imbalance in the machine-learning community at large, where only 12 percent of the leading researchers are female, according to Wired.

Gender may go some way toward explaining why it’s taken computer scientists nearly 70 years to act on Turing’s ideas about the importance of children in AI research. Kids have traditionally been considered the domain of women.

I spoke to Gopnik about how her research on children has been perceived by male scientists and how that may finally be changing to the benefit of AI research. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
Read more... 

Additional resources
What do babies think? - Alison Gopnik

Source: Vox.com and TED-Ed Channel (YouTube)