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Writing AI is Like Parenting

Ted Vessenes wrote a nifty little post on his blog where he compared designing and programming AI to being a parent. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Writing artificial intelligence is a lot like being a parent. It requires an unbelievable amount of work. There are utterly frustrating times where your children (or bots) do completely stupid things and you just can’t figure out what they were thinking. And there are other times they act brilliantly, and all the effort feels satisfying and well spent.”

I have to agree with a lot of the points he makes in his post. I would like to take the analogy one step farther.

I’ve occasionally made the point about both parenting and AI that your job is to not define what your progeny should do but convey an understanding of why. If, as a parent, you tell your child not to run in the street, they will hopefully carry that lesson into the future. However, they may not apply that same edict to driveways, parking lots or any other places where they could get plowed over by a car. This is analogous to the scripted AI methodology. However, if you explain the why of the situation – i.e. “be careful anywhere that cars are moving because the driver may not see you in time to stop and you could get badly hurt” – then the simple rule can be applied to any situation where there are cars (or even car-like objects). This, of course, maps over to rule-based systems or even planning systems.

However, going back to Ted’s point, it is an interesting similarity to put all those rules into place and hope that your little bots realize the appropriate situations in which to use them. I actually wrote a column about this scary process on my weekly column over at AIGameDev.

Anyway, if you are an AI developer, I hope that you are blessed with many children who all grow up to be accomplished in their chosen lives (or deaths).

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