Publication 5439

Clancey W. J. (1987) Review of Understanding Computers and Cognition by T. Winograd & F. Flores. Artificial Intelligence 31(2): 232–250. Fulltext at
Artificial Intelligence researchers and cognitive scientists commonly believe that thinking involves manipulating representations. Thinking involves search, inference, and making choices. This is how we model reasoning and what goes on in the brain is similar. Winograd and Flores present a radically different view, claiming that our knowledge is not represented in the brain at all, but rather consists of an unformalized shared background, from which we articulate representations in order to cope with new situations. In contrast, computer programs contain only pre-selected objects and properties, and there is no basis for moving beyond this initial formalization when breakdown occurs. Winograd and Flores provide convincing arguments with examples familiar to most artificial intelligence researchers. However, they significantly understate the role of representation in mediating intelligent behavior, specifically in the process of reflection, when representations are generated prior to physical action. Furthermore, they do not consider the practical benefits of expert systems and the extent of what can be accomplished. Nevertheless, the book is crisp and stimulating, and should make artificial intelligence researchers more cautious about what they are doing, more aware of the nature of formalization, and more open to alternative views.

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