“Do not squander time,” said Benjamin Franklin, “for that is the stuff life is made of.” This quote appears midway through chapter 4 of The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker. Once again i find myself banging on about the importance of basing AGI development on cognitive loops instead of on-event algorithms. My apologies if i’m preaching to the choir, but some folks seem to need more convincing. I’ll let Dr. Pinker take over, quoting from the same spot.
Our consciousness, even more than it is posted in space, unrolls in time. I can imagine abolishing space from my awareness – if, say, I were floating in a sensort deprivation tank or became blind and paralyzed – while still continuing to think as usual. But it’s almost impossible to imagine abolishing time [Pinker's emphasis] from one’s awareness, leaving the last thought immobilized like a stuck car horn, while continuing to have a mind at all. For Decartes the distinction between the physical and the mental depended on this difference. Matter is extended in space, but consciousness exists in time as surely as it proceeds from “I think” to “I am”.
Pinker later drops a William James quote:
The practically cognized present is no knife-edge, but a saddleback, with a certain breadth of its own on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time. The unit of composition of our perseption of time is a duration, with a bow and a stern, as it were – a rearward- and forward-looking end…. We do not first feel one end and then feel the other after it, and from the perception of the succession infer an interval of time between, but we seem to feel the interval of time as a whole, with its two ends embedded in it.
James called this the “specious present”. Pinker elaborates:
How long is the specious present? The neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel has proposed an answer in a law: “We take life three seconds at a time.” That interval, more or less, is the duration of an intentional movement like a handshake; of the immediate planning of a precise movement, like hitting a golf ball; of the flips and flops of an ambiguous figure [refering to optical illusions elsewhere in the book]; of the span within which we can accurately reproduce an interval; of the decay of unrehearsed short-term memory; of the time to make a quick decision, such as when we’re channel-surfing; and of the duration of an utterance, a line of poetry, or a musical motif, like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Practically speaking, from a very low level, if the AGI implementation were monitoring a data stream, one that was merely event-based (i.e. running an algorithm on the receipt of data) would be incapable of acting upon the absence of data. This was the original reason why i started to focus more on cognitive loops, but these days the more i read stuff like Pinker’s books, the more i’m convinced that this is the only way to go.
I am personally unaware of any serious AGI project that uses cognitive looping as a basic architectural feature. Do any readers know of any?