The Language-Action Perspective: AI is Impossible?

With all my AI posts lately, I’m sorry I hadn’t realized that the May 2006 issue of the CACM had a theme on the language-action perspective, a critique by Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores that dates from 1986 whose essential point the CACM summarizes neatly:

[S]killful action always occurs in a context set by conversations, and in the conversations people perform speech acts by they commit to and generate the action. Expert behavior requires an extensive sensitivity to context and an ability to know what to commit to. Computing machines, which are purposely designed to process symbols independent of their context, have no hopes of becoming experts.

It’s a cutting insight and goes, I think, to why expert systems, for instance, initially seem very exciting but, in the real world, generally fail to provide a lot of value. (They’re great for training operators, though!)

Posted in AI