Invited Talk
What 4 year olds can do and AI can’t (yet)
Alison Gopnik

Thu Jun 13th 02:00 -- 03:00 PM @ Hall A

The last few years has seen dramatic progress in artificial intelligence, particularly in machine learning, most notably in new work in the connectionist tradition, such as deep learning, but also in work on inferring structured generative models from data. Nevertheless, this new work still is limited to relatively narrow and well-defined spaces of hypotheses. In contrast, human beings and human children, in particular, characteristically generate new, uninstructed and unexpected, yet relevant and plausible hypotheses. I will present several studies showing a surprising pattern. Not only can preschoolers learn abstract higher-order principles from data, but younger learners are actually better at inferring unusual or unlikely principles than older learners and adults. I relate this pattern to computational ideas about search and sampling, to evolutionary ideas about human life history, and to neuroscience findings about the negative effects of frontal control on wide exploration. I uggest that children solve these problems through model-building, exploration and social learning. My hypothesis is that the evolution of our distinctively long, protected human childhood allows an early period of broad hypothesis search, exploration and creativity, before the demands of goal-directed action set in. This evolutionary solution to the search problem may have implications for AI solutions.

Author Information

Alison Gopnik (U.C Berkeley)

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD. from Oxford University. She is an internationally recognized leader in the study of cognitive science and of children’s learning and development and was one of the founders of the field of “theory of mind”, an originator of the “theory theory” of children’s development and more recently introduced the idea that probabilistic models and Bayesian inference could be applied to children’s learning. She has held a Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences Fellowship, the Moore Distinguished Scholar fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, the All Souls College Distinguished Visiting Fellowship at Oxford, and King’s College Distinguished Visiting Fellowship at Cambridge. She is an elected member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has been continuously supported by the NSF and was PI on a 2.5 million dollar interdisciplinary collaborative grant on causal learning from the McDonnell Foundation. She is the author or coauthor of over 100 journal articles and several books including “Words, thoughts and theories” MIT Press, 1997, and the bestselling and critically acclaimed popular books “The Scientist in the Crib” William Morrow, 1999, “The Philosophical Baby; What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life”, and “The Gardener and the Carpenter”, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, the latter two won the Cognitive Development Society Best Book Prize in 2009 and 2016. She has also written widely about cognitive science and psychology for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Science, Scientific American, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, New Scientist and Slate, among others. Her TED talk on her work has been viewed more than 3 and a half million times. And she has frequently appeared on TV and radio including “The Charlie Rose Show” and “The Colbert Report”. Since 2013 she has written the Mind and Matter column for the Wall Street Journal. She lives in Berkeley with her husband Alvy Ray Smith, and has three children and three grandchildren.