Sunday, April 12, 2015

the illogicality of logicality

I'm in a "Game of Thrones" sort of mood, so let's look at a hypothetical situation philosophically, using material from GRR Martin's A Storm of Swords.

Situation: three distinct events have occurred at King's Landing:

(1) The whore Shae, who testified against Tyrion Lannister at Tyrion's trial, has been found strangled in Tywin Lannister's bed. (Tywin is Tyrion's father. Tyrion, by the way, is a dwarf. An angry, clever, sometimes ruthless dwarf.)

(2) Tywin Lannister has been found dead in his privy (i.e., toilet), a crossbow bolt lodged deep in his lower abdomen. Tywin has long been a strict, cold, unsentimental father with exceedingly high expectations for his children: handsome, arrogant Jaime; dwarfish Tyrion; and comely, naughty, scheming Cersei. (Tyrion is arguably the kindest of the three.) It is known that there is no love lost between Tywin and Tyrion.

(3) Tyrion Lannister is no longer in his prison cell. He has escaped, presumably with help from the outside.

A normal human being would look at these three events, plus the meager background I've provided, and conclude it very likely that Tyrion killed both Shae and his own father. But is this a conclusion arrived at strictly through syllogistic logic? I would say no. If anything, it's human inuition that allows us to draw the necessary conclusion (and, in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Tyrion is, in fact, the killer of both Shae and Tywin).

The problem for someone like, oh, Mr. Spock, would be this: correlation does not imply causation. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to conclude firmly that Tyrion was the cause of Shae's and Tywin's deaths. The above three events all occurred near each other in time, true, but it could have been the case that one or two other people killed the whore and the father separately. Or, given this world of ghosts and demons, it could have been some avenging black spirit, birthed by the sinister priestess Melisandre, that took the lives of the man and the woman.

This type of situation is, I think, a major hurdle facing designers of artificial intelligence. In a loose sense, we're brought back to the classic framing problem: what should one consider relevant when sizing up a situation? What goes inside the frame, and what is pushed outside the frame as irrelevant? It seems, at least at first blush, that raw logic is of little help in pointing the finger at Tyrion Lannister as the murderer of two people. Instead, it's the human ability to see the situation in terms of "common sense," itself a vague and fuzzy term, that allows us to focus on the angry dwarf as the cause of all the mayhem.

Concepts like common sense and intuition are what make the framing problem so difficult for AI designers. It's going to be a long, long time before we get our very first robotic chief of police, I think. In the meantime, there's a vengeful dwarf running around somewhere.


1 comment:

The Maximum Leader said...

Does the fact that Tyrion was being held pending execution for the murder of the King factor into this? Should it?