Re: AI Goals [WAS Re: The Singularity vs. the Wall]

From: Richard Loosemore (
Date: Tue Apr 25 2006 - 09:26:31 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
>> I think that the question of an AI's "goals" is the most important issue
>> lurking beneath many of the discussions that take place on this list.
>> The problem is, most people plunge into this question without stopping
>> to consider what it is they are actually talking about.
> Richard, this is a good point.
> "Goal", like "free will" or "consciousness" or "memory", is
> 1)
> a crude abstraction that we use to describe certain aspects of a
> complex cognitive system (the human mind/brain), but that does not
> really fully describe these aspects correctly
> 2)
> An abstraction that some complex cognitive systems use as an
> **ideal**, i.e. they try to modify themselves so as to be more
> explicitly goal-oriented, never fully succeeding (at least in the
> human case)
> When I say that an AGI has certain goals, I don't necessarily mean
> that the AGI is orienting all its actions toward these goals, just
> that
> * the statement that the AGI is "pursuing" these goals is a fair
> approximation of its behavior
> * the AGI is explicitly involved in an ongoing process of making
> itself more goal-oriented so that it can better achieve these goals
> which it explicitly conceptualizes

So let's begin to construct a better definition of what's happening here.

What about the following distinctions:

1) There are explicit, self-conscious "goals" that the system sets for
itself and that it can talk about easily when you ask it "What are you
doing this morning?" [Answer: "Well, my goal for this morning is to
finish writing a paper."]

2) There is the actual thing it is doing, which we might call a "task
goal" that is currently occupying the system's attention, which comes up
if we ask "What are you actually doing right now?" [Answer: "Okay, so
I got distracted and so what I am actually doing right now is writing a
message to reply to one of Ben's posts."]

3) The above two points highlight the fact that the system can have many
of these goals hanging around, functioning on different timescales. I
have a work list that has a couple of hundred house-maintenance, house
renovation and other tasks on it, but it impinges on my behavior in
various ways. Even if these are goals that operate on a timescale of
years, what makes them similar to other ones is that I can explicitly
articulate them.

4) Might there also be other goals that I cannot articulate because they
work underneath the surface? That I cannot articulate (even if my
therapist might be able to)? This is difficult: let's make a category
for this type of goal, even though I think in the end there may not be
any that belong in this category rather than in the next one..........

5) Motivations. I would distinguish between these and goals. Right now
I am swayed in my behavior by some nebulous "dispositions" that I want
to satisfy. One is gustatory pleasure (I come to a coffee shop to work,
where I can get a pot of tea to sip while I am writing). One is human
company (the coffee shop has people in who I don't often interact with,
but who have something I need, which is perhaps the sound of voices and
activity). One is the need to achieve something intellectual, or to
make a mark upon the world, or to be noticed by peers .... hence I am
driven to write a paper rather than just go dig the garden.

I could list many other background motivations or drivers that I think
contribute to my decision to be here doing this, rather than other
things. I think these are very different from explicit goals because
they are (a) hard to articulate, and (b) primal, or out of my control.
I do not decide to want gustatory pleasure, I just want it. The fact
that they are hard to articulate means, in my theory of mind, that they
are not directly a part of the main area where all the explicit thinking
gets done. They impinge on this area, but are distinct from it.

6) Motivations are not the end of the process, because there is a system
that organizes the motivations. I don't just let gustatory pleasure
drive me all day long, I wax and wane between the various motivations.
There are saturation and novelty seeking mechanisms at work here: too
much of one motivation starts to make me want to do something different.

The interaction between the motivational system and the place where all
the contents-of-consciousness stuff goes on (the "foreground," in my
terminology) is of greatest interest to me. It is not simply a matter
of some motivation marching and putting an explicit goal on top of the
goal stack: the motivational system is dumb, so it cannot know exactly
how to do this. There is a coupling between the two, but it is quite loose.

How, for example, does a nine-month old child have an episode of the
"rebellious independence" motivation when it does not yet have the
concepts to put a "rebel!" goal on its goal stack and then try to work
out a plan of action that satisfies that goal? I watched this happen in
my son (and then watched and saw the character streak develope from that
point on, so it was real, that first time), and I find it fascinating
that the motivation was there before the concepts that he could have
used to discuss it. This is a very abstract example, I know, but it
cuts right to the heart of the problem.

Sorry for the ramble. I'll turn it into a paper soon. I especially
want to disect your own comments about how you see the significance of
the term "goals", which seems to be sort of operationalist or behaviorist.

[Sigh: another paper for the goal stack]

Richard Loosemore.

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