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Reflections on a robotic Sherlock Holmes

In order to take the point beyond a mere rhetorical question, let's conduct a simple thought-experiment: Suppose the year is 2019, and that the CAI marriage has produced remarkable offspring - in the form of a robot (or android), SHER-COG, capable of the sort of behavior associated with Sherlock Holmes.We use a fictional character only to render our points vivid. A ``real life'' human detective could, without diminishing our point, be substituted for Holmes in our fable. Consider perhaps Holmes' greatest triumph, namely solving the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the racehorse known as ``Silver Blaze'' (Doyle 1984); and suppose that SHER-COG is asked (by an analogue for Dr. Watson), after cracking this case, how it accomplished the feat. What options does our robotic sleuth have for communicating an answer?

One thing that would surely fail to enlighten would be to allow humans to examine the neural nets of SHER-COG. In order to see this, you have only to imagine what it would be like to study gargantuan versions of such snapshots as those sketched above. How would information about the states of nodes and the weights on connections between them help you divine how SHER-COG deduced that the culprit in this mystery could not be a stranger to dogs on the farm that was Silver's Blaze's home? If our snapshots don't get the point accross, think of the impenetrability of binary core dumps. How could study of such things enlighten one as to the reasoning employed by the likes of SHER-COG?

Of course, SHER-COG could resort to natural language. It could proceed to explain its solution in (e.g.) English, in much the same way that Sherlock Holmes often explains things to the slower Dr. Watson. But this route concedes our point, for by it we end up once again invoking LAI in all its glory. This is so because in order to really understand what SHER-COG is telling us in English, it will be necessary to analyze this English formally; and the formal analysis will bring to bear the machinery of logical systems we have discussed in this paper.

For example, to truly understand Holmes' explanation, conveyed to the nonplussed Watson, concerning the mystery of Silver Blaze, one must come to see the following chain of reasoning (which involves the famous clue about the ``dog doing nothing in the night-time'').

  1. If the dog didn't bark, then the person responsible for lacing the meal with opium couldn't be a stranger.
  2. The dog didn't bark.
  3. The person responsible for lacing the meal with opium couldn't be a stranger. (from 1. and 2.)
  4. Simpson was a stranger.
  5. Simpson was not responsible. (from 3. and 4.)

At work here, of course, are the rules modus ponens and modus tollens, cornerstones of LAI.Lest it be thought that the ratiocination of Sherlock Holmes is a phenomenon confined to the world of fiction, we direct readers to the remarkable reasoning used by Robert N. Anderson (Ybarra 1996) to recently solve the 80 year-old mystery of what caused the fire that destroyed Jack London's ``Wolf House'' in 1913. Wolf House was to be London's ``manly'' residence, a 15,000 square foot structure composed of quarried volcanic rock and raw beams from ancient redwoods. The conflagration occurred just days before London was to move in, and though London vowed to rebuild, he died three years later with the house still in ruins.

Our conclusion is that if in the future we desire not only to build human-matching robots (or androids), but to understand them (and cognition in general) as well, then the logic-AI marriage ought to be sustained - and sustaining it shouldn't be hard: The more than 2,500 pages we assimilated for this review article seem to us to provide unassailable evidence that the passion at the heart of that marriage, though as old as Euclid, will endure.

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next up previous
Next: About this document Up: The communicative advantages of Previous: Neural nets

Selmer Bringsjord
Mon Nov 17 14:57:06 EST 1997