Defining Wisdom

Recently, a colleague pointed me to a very interesting initiative at the University of Chicago – the Defining Wisdom project. This is a broadly defined project that, as I see it, aims as much to delineate good questions as provide answers. Unfortunately, I was not able to send in a proposal within the deadline but I am keenly interested in the project and curious to see what comes out.

Clearly, the danger with these kinds of broad questions is that it can become an exercise in hand waving. Moreover, these days, it is considered somewhat unfashionable to ask such questions and most serious researchers of learning and AI focus on more down to earth questions. For the most part, I do the same thing myself in that my immediate work is motivated by tangible questions arising in robotics, etc. However, I also think that the process of creating a learning robot is going to have much in common with seemingly grander questions in scientific discovery. For instance, in many quantitative domains ranging from basic sciences to finance, one of the things we attribute to a “wise” expert is the use and awareness of “deep” representations that allow for efficient inferences with limited data. There are all these anecdotal stories about famous physicists and their back of the envelope calculations which were later confirmed by detailed simulations and experiments. In most cases, these people were making fairly normal inferences using deeply specialized representations. A good robot, that can perform reliably in a wide variety of environments and tasks, will need some measure of the same skill. Of course, a human expert who is doing highly specialized scientific reasoning may be doing something much wise-er than the robot, but I believe that there will be little qualitative difference at the core of it all.

Beyond all this talk, I am also planning (in the medium term) to put my money where my mouth is – attempting some scientific discovery problems using the same general tools that I develop for robots. Let us see where all this will take me…


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