It has been hard to give this blog any attention while finishing my dissertation, but now that it is done -- I am now Dr. Singh! -- I will try to post a bit more often (although it is difficult to combat the Inverse Law of Usenet Bandwidth.)
I travelled last week to the AAAI meeting with Marvin Minsky, who gave the keynote talk on some new ideas he has been developing about how minds grow. The basic idea is called "interior grounding," and it is about how minds might develop certain simple ideas before they begin building articulate connections to the outside world. Marvin developed this idea partly in reaction to the popular desire to build AI "baby machines" that start with blank slates and develop ideas by extensive exposure to the outside world. The difficulty with baby machines is that the world is a confusingly complex place, and making sense of it is not simple matter. There may be ways to discover useful concepts in advance of exposure to the rich, outside world, and that -- when the mind is ready -- make learning about the outside world easier.
I think one reason Marvin likes the interior grounding idea is that it is very compatible with the Society of Mind theory, where the mind is seen not as a single agent, but as a society of simpler agents. In this society, some agents are directly connected to sensors and effectors that interface to the external world. But other agents don't see the outside world at all -- their concern is with the activities of other agents within the mind. Perhaps most of our agents are of this sort, concerned with problems not in the outside world but with other agents within the mind. If this is the case, then many of our mental agents may begin learning and developing, and develop sophisticated notions about how minds work, well before our sensorimotor agents have learned very much about the outside world.