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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Hand-drawn logic tree can help decipher concept of AI

December 17. 2017 8:43PM
This illustration is a hand-drawn diagram of possible decisions a person can come to when a person sees someone he or she thinks may be an old acquaintance. (COURTESY)

What is artificial intelligence? Here’s our second look at the concept.

The man walking toward me on the street looks like Bob, a friend of mine. As he continues to walk toward me, I decide that he is Bob, a friend. I say “Hi, Bob,” and he returns his greeting the same way “Hey, Sam. How are you doing?”

This conversation exchange is repeated millions of times every day all over the world. Maybe they are not in English, but in German, French, Italian and so on. Now let us change the situation a bit.

You see a man walking toward you on the street. The man reminds you of someone from a long past, such as a high school classmate, who belonged to the football team. He wasn’t a great player, but you were fond of him then.

You don’t recall him attending the fifth, 10th or 20th reunion. He must have moved away and established his life there and cut off his tie to his friends here. You look at his face, and you really can’t tell if it’s Bob for sure. You had forgotten many of his key features, and this man seems to have gained some weight. The distance between him and you are quickly closing in, and your mind is running at full speed trying to decide if it is Bob. At this moment, you have a few choices. A decision tree will emerge and you will need to choose one of the available options.

A) Decide he is Bob.

A1) Address yourself to him and say, “Hi, Bob”.

B) You are not sure if he is Bob, so:

B1) Stop him and ask if he is indeed Bob.

B1-1) He says yes. Indeed, he is Bob.

B1-2) He says no. Just a man who resembles Bob

B2) Nah, let’s forget it and let him pass by.

C) Let’s go home and search Bob through the Internet, and then try to get a hold of him later.

D) Let’s just drop the whole idea and do nothing. It isn’t that important.

Now, I recommend you put this logic decision tree into a hand-drawn graphic. By saying “hand-drawn,” I mean literally drawn by your own hand. Do not try to use any computer graphic software. If you already are a semi-expert in using some software, use it to draw. But the fastest path to understanding such things as a logic decision tree is to do it by hand.

It looks messy? That’s fine. Yes, of course if you use a computer graphic software, the finish is neat and presentable. But the amount of time you spend drawing the diagram, which you don’t do every day as part of your work, is rather wasteful. Please keep in mind that understanding something basic has little to do with neat drawing.

In my long career as an inventor, I have never seen any productive inventor whose desk was always neat and orderly. Remember the task at hand is to understand the concept of artificial intelligence as fast and as fundamentally as possible. In that process, if you draw a neat diagram, that’s fine but not necessary.

The accompanying illustration is my messy diagram using my own hand and no software. I am sure the diagram needs to be more complex. Please add your own set of decisions to the diagram. Since you haven’t seen Bob for 20 years since high school, he may look a little different. Suppose “Bob” has grown a beard. Your feeling that this might be Bob may decline in strength as you and Bob approach each other.

In the logic diagram I show, there are some questions that are influenced by emotions. B2) “Nah, let’s forget it” and C) and D) are all results of emotional decisions, and have little to do with whether this man is Bob.

Human decision-making is often influenced by emotion, which is often independent of facts. Your decision to drop the idea of meeting Bob after so many years is caused by shyness, laziness and/or avoiding some embarrassment just in case this man is not Bob. The more you think about this decision-making process, the less sure you’d become. After all, if you and Bob hadn’t spoken for 20 years, maybe we should leave the whole thing alone.

And thus, this is clearly the result of human intelligence working. If this were the artificial intelligence, chances are the decision B2, C and D wouldn’t happen. Machines today at their infantile stage of development do not know such emotional feeling as “too much trouble,” hesitation due to fear of failing (Bob says he isn’t Bob), or laziness and or “too complicated.” In some distant time in the future, these complex feelings and deeds driven by the emotion will be realized, I hope. But not now.

At this point in the state of art of artificial intelligence, a machine would not hesitate once it makes a decision. That’s because it cannot hesitate. Hesitation is a very complex emotional decision that a machine simply cannot perform. There you see a huge crevice between human and artificial intelligence.

In fact, animals (remember we are also animals) display complex emotional decisions daily.

Now, are you beginning to grasp the difference between human intelligence and artificial intelligence? To be continued.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle was named by MIT as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century. Write to him at


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