The Subtlety of Sameness
Foreword by Daniel Dennett
While it is fashionable today to dismiss the "bad old days" of artificial intelligence and rave about emergent self-organizing systems, Robert French has created a model of human analogy-making that attempts to bridge the gap between classical top-down AI and more recent bottom-up approaches.
The research described in this book is based on the premise that human analogy-making is an extension of our constant background process of perceiving—in other words, that analogy-making and the perception of sameness are two sides of the same coin. At the heart of the author's theory and computer model of analogy-making is the idea that the building-up and the manipulation of representations are inseparable aspects of mental functioning, in contrast to traditional AI models of high-level cognitive processes, which have almost always depended on a clean separation.
A computer program called Tabletop forms analogies in a microdomain consisting of everyday objects on a table set for a meal. The theory and the program rely on the idea that myriad stochastic choices made on the microlevel can add up to statistical robustness on a macrolevel. To illustrate this, French includes the results of thousands of runs of his program on several dozen interrelated analogy problems in the Tabletop microworld.
French's work is exciting not only because it reveals analogy-making to be an extension of our complex and subtle ability to perceive sameness but also because it offers a computational model of mechanisms underlying these processes. This model makes significant strides in putting into practice microlevel stochastic processing, distributed processing, simulated parallelism, and the integration of representation-building and representation-processing.
A Bradford Book