Ombudsman Alert: Why A Pre-Verbal Child Can Be Smarter Than A Computer!



Your humble author of the Ombudsman Alert, who taught Mathematics at MIT during 1957-60, was honored  to also be a junior member of a research team in the emerging science of Artificial Intelligence established in those years by MIT Professors John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky, currently known as the “Fathers of Artificial Intelligence” as well as Professor Claude Shannon, widely recognized as the “Father of Information Theory”

Notwithstanding the considerable further developments in the science of Artificial Intelligence(AI) over the past 58 years, current MIT Professor Josh Tenenbaum in his recent pioneering work exploring the minds of young pre-verbal children was able to establish the unprecedented fact that such a child, in some respects, “IS SMARTER THAN ANY MACHINE”(including computers utilizing the latest developments in AI).

How can all this be possible? In order to answer this question, Ombudsman Alert relies, once again, on the permission that the Editor, David Rotman,of the MIT Technology Review has always given to this column to quote directly from the Review, this time from the current “MIT News” in its feature story “GAME ON! By Studying how people play games and think, Josh Tenenbaum is helping explain why a child is smarter than any machine.”


“In the early days of Artificial Intelligence. the science of human learning was not advanced enough to offer much guidance…Turing(a founder of AI) could only presume what a child’s brain was like, -..and regarded it as a blank notebook-but no, says Tenenbaum-it is much more… In 2008 Tenenbaum taught a class at Harvard with the renowned psychologist Elizabeth Spelke who has shown that even young babies have certain forms of knowledge that appear to be built in…Spelke showed that some form of this understanding is present in two-to three-month olds…Spelke convinced Tenenbaum that the brain is set up to develop certain concepts, and in order to appreciate human intelligence fully, it is necessary to model the core intelligence of very young children.”

“Most recently,Tenenbaum and Spelke explored how 10-month-old babies were able to figure out what other people want and how much they value the goals they’re pursuing. To do so, the researchers created animations in which blue, red and yellow characters jumped over walls or performed other physical tasks to reach one another. For instance, a red figure might jump over a small wall to get to a blue figure but refuse to jump over a medium wall, That same figure, however, might scale a tall wall in order to reach its yellow counterpart. The researchers hypothesized that if babies saw a character work harder to achieve a goal, they would infer that the character valued it more than the alternative. Indeed, when the researchers showed a red figure standing between yellow and blue with no wall and then caused it to move toward blue, the babies stared for longer. That is, having seen the red figure perform more work to reach yellow, they had inferred that red preferred yellow and were surprised when it”chose’ blue unstead. THIS SUGGESTS THAT EVEN PRE-VERBAL BABIES HAVE AN INTUITIVE UNDERSTANDING OF THE BALANCE BETWEEN COSTS AND REWARDS AND HOW IT FIGURES INTO OTHER PEOPLE’S BEHAVIOR.”

“In conclusion, Ombudsman Alert suggests the even pre-verbal babies can, in certain instances, BE SMARTER THAN A COMPUTER!”  

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