Understanding understanding – could an A.I. cook meth?
What would it take to say that an artificial system “understands” something? What do we mean when we say humans understand something? I asked those questions on Twitter recently and it prompted some very interesting debate, which I will try to summarise and expand on here. Several people complained that the questions were unanswerable until I had defined “understanding”, but that was exactly the problem – I didn’t have a good understanding of what understanding means. That’s what I was trying to unpick. I know, of course, that there is a rich philosophical literature on this question, but the bits of it I’ve read were not quite getting at what I was after. I was trying to get to a cognitive or computational framework defining the parameters that constitute understanding in a human, such that we could operationalise it to the point that we could implement it in an artificial intelligence. So, rather than starting with a definition, let me start with an illustration