Friday, December 09, 2005

The Social Theory of Intelligence and AI

If one studies human evolution it becomes evident that all of the traits that we tend to think of as human developed slowly and together. These traits are tool making, speech, self-awareness, awareness of death, and the complexity of social organization that makes activities like hunting large game possible.

As the evidence for these traits appear in the archaeological record so does the increase of encephalization along with other human qualities such as left brain hemisphere dominance appear in the fossil record.

So the question raised is what process drove this advancement and what can it teach us about intelligence in general?

In one book I read (The Origin of Human Kind by Richard Leakey) he discusses a theory known as the social theory of intelligence. I found this theory to be remarkable. Here's the jist of it. With the rise of primates and especially the African apes social coordination became a more and more important aspect for the survival of the species. With the rise of this social coordination there came what Leakey calls 'social chess'. Social chess is far more complex than real chess and we as well as our ape cousins play it expertly. What social chess requires is that we know who our friends are, who our enemies are, and how to make and change alliances. Additionally it requires that we have a picture of how our own self appears to the rest of the world. It is this ability of self-consciouses awareness that makes things like deception possible.

As the theory goes self-consciousness is what arises when our model of the world becomes so complete that we must include our selves in that model. One ingenious method of determining if a being is self aware is how it reacts to a mirror image of itself. In this experiment a mark is put on an animals forehead. If the animal recognizes that the image in the mirror is itself then it will react with curiosity about the mark on its head by touching it or something of that nature. Interestingly only chimpanzees and orangutans were able to respond in this way. This is evidence that self-awareness is something that arises from intelligence because intelligence requires awareness of one's own behavior in order to predict the behaviors of others (which is an essential component of social chess).

At any rate this theory sparked my imagination and got me thinking that the best way to discover a complete theory of artificial general intelligence would be through thoroughly understanding what neurological structures exist in the human brain that do not exist in the ape brain and applying that knowledge to a better understanding of what makes general intelligence possible at all.

For a much better understanding of the social theory of intelligence read this paper.


Thought provoking post, thanks. Also, nice link. The paper updates some of Schank's theories from the 70s and 80s. The author also tries to provide a bridge from theory to experiment, which is something sadly lacking in a lot of consciousness speculation. Hawkin's book On Intelligence provides a lot of hope that experimentation will soon constitute a lot more of the bulk of consciousness studies.

The main difference between ape and human brains is the size of the neocortex. Hawkins talks a lot about that in his book. He also discusses why cetacean brains, although as large as human brains, are qualitatively different.

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