Sunday, March 09, 2008

Brief Report on AGI-08


The AGI-08 conference ( occurred last weekend in Memphis...!

I had hoped to write up a real scientific summary of AGI-08, but at the moment it doesn't look like I'll find the time, so instead I'll make do with this briefer and more surface-level summary...

Firstly, the conference went VERY well. The tone was upbeat, the discussions were animated and intelligent, and all in all there was a feel of real excitement about having so many AGI people in one place at one time.

Attendance was good: We originally anticipated 80 registrants but had 120+.

The conference room was a futuristic setting called "The Zone" that looked sorta like the Star Trek bridge -- with an excellent if mildly glitchy video system that, during Q&A sessions, showed the questioner up on a big screen in front of the room.

The unconventional format (brief talks followed by long discussion/Q&A) sessions was both productive and popular. The whole thing was video-ed and at some point the video record will be made available online (I don't know the intended timing of this yet).

The proceedings volume was released by IOS Press a few weeks before the conference and is a thick impressive-looking tome.

The interdisciplinary aspect of the conference seemed to work well -- e.g. the session on virtual-worlds AI was chaired by Sibley Verbeck (CEO of Electric Sheep Company) and the session on neural nets was chaired by Randal Koene (a neuroscientist from Boston University). This definitely made the discussions deeper than if it had been an AI-researchers-only crowd.

Plenty of folks from government agencies and large and small corporations were in attendance, as well as of course many AI academics and non-affiliated AGI enthusiasts. Among the AI academics were some highly-respected stalwarts of the AI community, alongside the new generation...

There seemed to be nearly as many Europeans as Americans there, which was a pleasant surprise, and some Asians as well.

The post-conference workshop on ethical, sociocultural and futurological issues drew about 60 people and was a bit of a free-for-all, with many conflicting perspectives presented quite emphatically and vociferously. I think most of that discussion was NOT captured on video (it took place in a different room where video-ing was less convenient), though the workshop talks themselves were.

The media folks in attendance seemed most energized by the section on AI in virtual worlds, which is because in this section the presenters (me, Andrew Shilliday, and Martin Magnusson) showed movies of cute animated characters doing stuff. This gave the nontechnical observers something to grab onto, which most of the other talks did not.

As at the earlier AGI-06 workshop, one of the most obvious observations after listening to the talks was that a lot of AGI research programs are pursuing fairly similar architectures and ideas but using different languages to describe what they're doing. This suggests that making a systematic effort at finding a common language and really understanding the true overlaps and differences of the various approaches, would be very beneficial. There was some talk of organizing a small, invitation-only workshop among practicing AGI system architects, perhaps in Fall 2008, with a view toward making progress in this direction.

Much enthusiasm was expressed for an AGI-09, and it was decided that this will likely be located in Washington DC, a location that will give us the opportunity to use the conference to help energize various government agencies about AGI.

There was also talk about the possibility of an AGI online technical journal, and a group of folks will be following that up, led by Pei Wang.

An "AGI Roadmap" project was also discussed, which would involve aligning different cognitive architectures currently proposed insofar as possible, but also go beyond that. Another key aspect of the roadmap might be an agreement on certain test environments or tasks that could be used to compare and explore various AGI architectures in more of a common way than is now possible.

Lots of ideas ... lots of enthusiasm ... a strong feeling of community-building ... so, I'm really grateful to Stan Franklin, Pei Wang, Sidney DeMello and Bruce Klein and everyone else who helped to organize the conference.

Finally, an interesting piece of feedback was given by my mother, who knows nothing about AGI research (she runs a social service agency) and who did not attend the conference but read the media coverage afterwards. What she said is that the media seems to be taking a far less skeptical and mocking tone toward AGI these days, as opposed to 7-10 years ago when I first started appearing in the media now and then. I think this is true, and it signifies a real shift in cultural attitude. This shift is what allowed The Singularity Is Near to sell as many copies as it did; and what encouraged so many AI academics to come to a mildly out-of-the-mainstream conference on AGI. Society, including the society of scientists, is starting to wake up to the notion that, given modern technology and science, human-level AGI is no longer a pipe dream but a potential near-term reality. w00t! Of course there is a long way to go in terms of getting this kind of work taken as seriously as it should be, but at least things seem to be going in the right direction.

Balancing concrete work on AGI with community-building work like co-organizing AGI is always a tricky decision for me.... But in this case, the conference went sufficiently well that I think it was worthwhile to deviate some time from the R&D to help out with it. (And now, back to the mass of other work that piled up for me during the conference!)

Yet More Rambling on Will (Beyond the Rules vs. Randomness Dichotomy)

A bit more on this nasty issue of will ... complementing rather than contradicting my previously-expressed ideas.

(A lot of these theory-of-mind blog posts are gonna ultimately get revised and make their way into The Web of Pattern, the sequel to The Hidden Pattern that I've been brewing in my mind for a while...)

What occurred to me recently was a way out of the old argument that "free will can't exist because the only possibilities are RULES versus RANDOMNESS."

In other words, the old argument goes: Either a given behavior is determined, or it's random. And in either case, where's the will? Granted, a random coin-toss (quantum or otherwise) may be considered "free" in a sense, but it's not willed -- it's just random.

What occurred to me is that this dichotomy is oversimplified because it fails to take two factors into account:

  1. A subjectively experienced moment occurs over a fuzzy span of time, not at a single physical moment
  2. "Random" always means "random with respect to some observer."

To clarify the latter point: "S is random to system X" just means "S contains no patterns that system X could identify."

System Y may be able to recognize some patterns in S, even though X can't.

And, X may later evolve into X1, which can recognize patterns in S.

Something that was random to me thirty years ago, or thirty seconds ago, may be patterned to me now.

Consider the perspective of the deliberative, rational component of my mind, when it needs to make a choice. It can determine something internally, or it can draw on an outside source, whose outcome may not be predictable to it (that is, it may make a "random" choice). Regarding outside sources, options include

  1. a random or pseudorandom number generator
  2. feedback from the external physical world, or from another mind in the vicinity
  3. feedback from the unconscious (or less conscious) non-deliberative part of the mind

Any one of these may introduce a "random" stimulus that is unpatterned from the point of view of the deliberative decision-maker.

But of course, options 2 and 3 have some different properties from option 1. This is because, in options 2 or 3, something that appears random at a certain moment, may appear non-random a little later, once the deliberative mind has learned a little more (and is thus able to recognize more or different patterns).

Specifically, in the case of option 3, it is possible for the deliberative mind to draw on the unconscious mind for a "random" choice, and then a half-moment later, import more information from the unconscious that allows it to see some of the patterns underlying the previously-random choice. We may call this process "internal patternization."

Similarly, in the case of option 2, it is possible for the deliberative mind to draw on another mind for a "random" choice, and then a half-moment later, import more information from the other mind that allows it to see some of the patterns underlying the previously random choice. We may call this process "social patternization."

There's also "physical patternization" where the random choice comes from an orderly (but initially random to the perceiving mind) process in the external world.

These possibilities are interesting to consider in the light of the non-instantaneity of the subjective moment. Because, the process of patternization may occur within a single experienced moment.

The subjective experience of will, I suggest, is closely tied to the process of internal patternization. When we have the feeling of making a willed decision, we are often making a "random" choice (random from the perspective of our deliberative component), and then immediately having the feeling of seeing some of the logic and motivations under that choice (as information passes from unconscious to conscious). But the information passed into the deliberative mind is of course never complete and there's always still some indeterminacy left, due to the limited capacity of deliberative mind as compared to unconscious mind.

So, what is there besides RULES plus RANDOMNESS?

There is the feeling of RANDOMNESS transforming into RULES (i.e. patterns), within a single subjective moment.

When this feeling involves patterns of the form "Willing X is causing {Willing X plus the occurrence of S}", then we have the "free will" experience. (This is the tie-in with my discourse on free will and hypersets, a few blog posts ago.)

That is, the deliberative content of recursive willing is automatized and made part of the unconscious, through repeated enaction. It then plays a role in unconscious action determination, which is perceived as random by the deliberative mind -- until, toward the tail end of a subjective moment, it becomes more patterned (from the view of the deliberative mind) due to receiving more attention.

Getting practical for a moment: None of this, as I see it, is stuff that you should program into an AGI system. Rather it is stuff that should emerge within the system as a part of its ongoing recognition of patterns in the world and itself, oriented toward achieving its goals. In this particular case the dynamics of attention allocation is key -- the process by which low-attention items (unconscious) can rapidly gain attention (become intensely deliberatively conscious) within a single subjective moment, but can also have a decisive causal impact prior to this increase in attention. The nonlinear dynamics of attention, in other words, is one of the underpinnings of the subjective experience of will.

What I'm trying to do here is connect phenomenology, cognitive science and AGI design. It seems to work, conceptually, in terms of according with my own subjective experience and also with known data on human brain/mind and my intuition/experience with AGI design.