Tuesday, May 10, 2011

IBM's Watson plays Jeopardy “Unconsciously”

The video above shows Watson, a computer system with artificial intelligence developed by IBM, participating in a televised game show against Jeopardy record holders Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. The computer uses algorithms (which have been around for a while) to parse out phrases from the jeopardy questions and match them against information in its internal memory. Watson has open access to a memory bank of 200 million pages of text including dictionaries, thesauri, newswire articles, literary works and all of the encyclopedic entries of Wikipedia. This information takes up four terabytes of disk space in its RAM based memory. It is not the first computer to solve these kinds of questions but it is the first to do so in the order of a couple of seconds with very high accuracy. 
Watson parses the clues into different keywords and sentence fragments in order to find statistically related phrases. Through the simultaneous execution of thousands of language analysis algorithms, Watson comes up with a number of potential answers (mostly proper nouns or verbs), that are statistically most likely to match the cues given by Jeopardy's Alex Trebek. Watson chooses the answer that has been found most frequently by different, independently operating, algorithmic searches.  
Watson is not conscious. It has proven that it can best the most skilled human trivia practitioners in the world but it doesn't "understand" the questions that it answers. Watson might be able to narrow its associative search down to a single city but it cannot appreciate why it chose the city, cannot visualize what it would be like to visit this city and has no desire to do so. Although it can come up with a precise list of the most closely semantically related words and concepts, it cannot reflect on these in a creative, insightful or emotional way. In some ways though, Watson's method of processing is very much like our own. Its multiassociative approach is much like the way our unconscious mind can select a single answer when given a set of related cues.
Like Watson we have mental representations of words, perceptions and concepts organized in our head and these are associated to one another in various ways. The associations are determined by our experiences and each concept, is associated with many other concepts. To access the memory of a concept, several other closely related concepts must be activated at the same time. In fact, when a set of concepts are coactivated (like the words twinkle, distant and night sky), sometimes there is only one representation that all of these descriptions sum together to activate. Interestingly, even our brain cells, at a very fundamental level are organized for multiassociativity. Individual neurons must have messages being sent to them by many other neurons, for them to increase their firing rate. In the cognitive, neuroscientific and AI sense, representations made active by a jeopardy question send out outputs to many different dormant representations and the ones that are converged upon the most become active. In other words, multiple cues activate tons of different representations, but only the representations that best match the suite of cues - taken all together - are activated maximally to become conscious.  The important question is, are the associative links in your network of associations wired up in such a way that the representation corresponding to the correct answer will become active?

An answer on Jeopardy a few days ago was: The name of a planet, an element and a Roman god. Within three seconds, the question, "what is mercury," popped into my head. It didn't pop in within a few hundred milliseconds so I must have done some conscious thinking beforehand. But I also know that I did not go sequentially down the list of elements and planets in my head in search for a commonality. The node in my brain (which might correspond to a cluster of neurons or even of cortical minicolumns) that corresponds to the concept of mercury, was converged upon and made active by these other concepts in an automatic and unconscious way. 

Snap judgments are made, unconsciously, in this way. But humans can do more than just make blind, automatic multiassociative guesses. Given time and the motivation to deliberate, humans can contemplate questions from a variety of different perspectives. It seems to me that most Jeopardy questions offer a number of associative cues that will automatically cue up the answer in a contestant’s head if they know it. Some Jeopardy questions seem to offer cues that require additional processing and the use of inferential and deductive thinking. Interestingly, Watson seems to be able to make up for its lack of human logic, on questions like these, with processing power and extensive memory.
To me the important question is, how does one imbue a system like Watson’s with human-like consciousness beyond instantaneous multiassociation? I think that the answer lies in endowing a computing system like Watson with the equivalent of a prefrontal cortex to keep certain representations active through the span of several seconds. Of course, this form of artificial intelligence would have to have a prolonged series of developmental experiences, similar to a childhood, to learn which representations to keep active in which scenarios. By maintaining the activiation of a representation, something that happend moments ago can impact future activity. This may not help much in Jeopardy where each question is meant to stand on its own independent from the other questions. However, in my mind, extended activation is totally responsible for the creativity, insight and emotionality that is necessary for most human activities. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mental Disorders at the Office




I have suspected for a long time that almost every one of the characters in NBC’s TV series “The Office” has a psychological disorder - even if it is a slightly subclinical one. Each character has a flaw that causes them to consistently make the same types of misconstruals, misapprehensions or misjudgements.  Often these mistakes lead the characters to commit serious social or occupational blunders making my favourite show on television a madhouse confined within the four walls of second story, Scranton, Pennsylvania office space.  In my Mom's opinion, the writers either intentionally modelled their characters after common psychiatric or psychological disorders or else at least a few of them have an uncanny sense of how and where everyday people can go wrong. What follows is a list of the characters and the psychological disorders that I think they are supposed to represent.
Few of the characters deserve a full blown diagnosis, rather most have tendencies or habits that are characteristic of a specific disorder. Further, some of the characters' patterns of behavior don’t map onto a true disorder but to a personality trait. A person usually only receives a diagnosis if their disorder consistently and adversely affects their well-being, their social life, their economic status or the people around them. On these criteria, you be the judge. Characters are listed in an order that reflects their severity of disorder, with the first being the most severe.

Michael Scott:
ADD: Inattentive, impulsive, inattention to detail, careless mistakes, does not follow through, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, forgetful, easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
Dwight Schrute:
Aspergers Syndrome: Impaired social and emotional interaction, impaired empathy and sympathy, forced to compensate for deficit of empathy by memorizing social patterns, idiosyncratic communication, make-believe inappropriate to developmental level, intense asocial preoccupations, obsessed with details that have no social consequences, other symptoms of autism
Creed Bratton:
Schizophrenia or Schizotypy: Disturbance of consciousness, poor clarity of awareness of the environment, reduced ability to sustain or shift attention, disorientation, memory impairment, frequent derailment of thought, incoherent, odd, eccentric or peculiar,
Angela Martin:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: recurrent and persistent thoughts about maintaining structure and order despite anxiety and stress that they may cause, preoccupied with lists, details and organization, feels driven to behaviors that are subject to rigid rules, overconscientious, scrupulous and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics or values. Hyperfrontality: habits pertaining to hygiene or social conventions are clearly excessive
Ryan Howard:
Narcissism: grandiose sense of self and inflated ego, arrogant and egoistic, is interpersonally exploitative and opportunistic, takes advantage of others, exaggerates achievements and talents, preoccupied with fantasies of success and power, has a sense of entitlement, lacks empathy
Erin Hannon:
Avoidant: avoids interpersonal activities that involve social contact in an effort to avoid criticism, disapproval or rejection, unwilling to become involved unless certain of being liked, shows restraint within intimate relationships for fear of shame, ridicule, inadequacy or embarrassment
Kevin Malone:
Mental Retardation: Does not meet the standards of his age group for pragmatics, communication, or self direction.
Kelly Kapoor:
Dependent Personality Disorder: pervasive and excessive fear of separation leading to clinging behavior, necessitates advice and reassurance from others, false veil of openness, extraversion and sociability.
Mr. Mifflin:
Alzheimer’s Disease: Significant memory impairment and advanced cognitive deficit, forgetfulness, disorientation
Toby Flenderson:
Depression: depressed mood throughout the day, feels sad or empty, low self esteem, feelings of hopelessness or melancholy, diminished interest or pleasure in most activities
Meredith Palmer:
Alcohol Dependence, Substance Abuse, Addictive Personality, Hyperactive Sexual Desire
Jan Levinson:
Neurotic: Impelled by distressed, anxious or angry energy
Stanley Hudson:
Antisocial / Psychoticism: failure to be apprehensive of aggressive acts, irritability, lack of remorse, indifference
Andy Bernard:
Intermittent Explosive Disorder: several episodes of failure to resist aggressive impulses that result in harm or destruction of property. Degree of aggressiveness is out of proportion to the precipitating psychosocial stressor, age inappropriate displays of anger
Jo Bennett:
Histrionic: uncomfortable in situations in which she is not the center of attention, uses physical appearance to draw attention, inflated ego, has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic
Phyllis Lapin-Vance:
Eating Disorder
Oscar Martinez:
Conscientious
Pam Halpert:
Low Self-esteem, but she is much better now
Jim Halpert:
Procrastination, Sarcasm, Competitiveness
Darryl Philbin:
Surgency
Holly Flax:
I guess she is just a bit nerdy