Marina Cortês

Ticks of time: on Cosmology, Everest, and Ballet

The intelligent new born – on artificial intelligence

What do babies know, and why is artificial intelligence failing at being smart.

What do babies know, and why is artificial intelligence failing at being smart?

A new born baby, at three to four weeks of age, is solving a second-order differential equation to reach a bottle with its hand.  This is the newtonian equation of motion (which is taught in undergrad physics). 

What is more, the coefficients of each term in this equation, the initial position, initial velocity, and acceleration, get permanently adjusted by the baby on-the-fly, as it starts to move its hand to reach the bottle. 

This latter problem solving, by the baby, can only be replicated by professional scientists, numerically, no one has an exact analytical solution for differential equations with varying, unspecified, coefficients. 

And yet the new born does this problem solving at just a few weeks old. 

I explain this exactly in the first 5 minutes of this talk at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. 

It was for a seminar aimed at a specially invited audience of high school students: International Summer School for Young Physics, Perimeter’s high school summer program.

We stand there, in the world’s most advanced institution for theoretical physics, and shout, at the top of our voices, and to the best of our abilities: 

“We need children to remain children as they grow up, and to keep their questions 

(which are not silly)”. 

This is because, as physicists, we need their opinions, children’s opinions, to help us solve the most complicated problems in physics (quantum mechanics, quantum gravity, etc, you name it). 

Grown-up thinking is just not helping in solving these big foundational problems. 

Yet, I feel that no one, outside of this intellectual sphere, really listens to us. The public at large still believes that you need to be really smart to be a physicist, a thinker. No you don’t.

You do not need to be smart to be a physicist. It is simply not true. 
You just need not to forget the scientist you once were, as a young child

I gave a talk at my last SciFOO (the unconference at Google Mountain View) on this: “What is the future of childhood?

What can we do?

I do my best to de-stigmatise this false belief. When I get a new Ph.D. student, it is *at least* one year’s work to peel away the layers of knowledge they have at age twenty-something, so we can start doing some real science. 

And then you still have to address the lack of belief in their own intuition, that our so-called wonderful educational system as bestowed on these young adults. And bear in mind that these are the world’s best of the best students, who are granted a Ph.D. position at Perimeter Institute. 

So yes… We want to understand artificial intelligence? Definitely start with a new born.

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