September 19, 2005

[A]n understanding system should be able to explain its own actions
- Roger C. Schank, Explanation Patterns: Understanding Mechanically and Creatively
Really?
The easiest way to understand the nature of understanding is to think of it in terms of a spectrum. At the far end of the spectrum we have what I call COMPLETE EMPATHY. This is the kind of understanding that might obtain between twins, very close brothers, very old friends, and other such combinations of very similar people.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the most minimal form of understanding, which I call MAKING SENSE. This is the point where events that occur in the world can be interpreted by the understander in terms of a coherent (although probably incomplete) picture of how those events came to pass. ...

Let us now consider what may well be a midpoint on the understanding spectrum. We discussed earlier the problem of men and women understanding each other, in general. The point there was that despite a cognitive apparatus that was identical, something was preventing complete understanding. This mid-point I label COGNITIVE UNDERSTANDING. By this I mean that although a man may be able to build an accurate model of a given woman, he may still not really understand what her motivations, fears, and needs are. That is, he lacks COMPLETE EMPATHY with her, but he still understands a great deal about her.
As a species we may be hard-wired for empathy, but we still seem to expect to be able to explain it cognitively? and thus our machines, to do the same in our image?

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