Monday, December 20, 2004

How to identify understanding

Can another's understanding be identified and confirmed? This is one of the most pressing questions in Artificial Intelligence. There are many ways to try to establish whether the other understood. The first and most obvious though perhaps not the most convincing way is to ask the other, did you understand? Understanding is presumed when the other gives a summary of the material, or asks questions such as those that point up inconsistencies, request clarifications or suggest extensions. Asking the other questions, as in a test, will also test for comprehension. Asking the other to apply the information directly or by integration, extrapolating it to higher level, is another way. A specific application is by asking for a prediction of a case using the information, but this cannot be the only application or confirmation of understanding as Jeff Hawkins proposes.

Why is understanding relevant? Understanding, comprehension, getting-it-ness is an important prelude to action. One needs to 'get' the situation before being able to act, before being able to assess different courses of action. What is comprehension? It is a perception of and about the direct area at hand but many important cultural assumptions may underlay the direct situation and also require realization in order for the true 'grokking' of a situation to occur. Concepts, cause and effect, an assumption of linearly and "forward" progressing time are some examples of Western cultural assumptions that may be subsumed in Western understanding. It can be challenging but finite to explain or specify the cultural nuances, they are all parameters for factors or concepts.