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Can the Future Astroboy Surpass the Human Child? 2. Cognitive information and affective information

2. Cognitive information and affective information

TAJIKA: Quite recently, I had an opportunity to talk with a researcher in life science at the Tsukuba University, Mr. Kazuo Murakami. Admitting that it was a sheer hypothesis, he referred to the possibility of one's genes being activated or inactivated, subject to one's state of mind. I imagine it requires a lot of courage for a scientist to make such a remark because it deviates somewhat from the materialistic standpoint.

According to Mr. Murakami, human beings become more vibrant when they are acknowledged by others, and some inactive genes may possibly be activated by a simple change in environment or in mind. In other words, if one's fate or destiny were genetically pre-determined at the onset, it would be a sheer fatalism. On the contrary, one's dormant energy, or one's latent capabilities might be activated on one's state of mind or a set-up of one's environment.

KOBAYASHI: I cannot deny that. Otherwise, we, humankind would have no hope to keep us going (laughter). And it makes sense to think that hormones secreted in the brain in a certain mind affect genetic operation because human beings have an innate basic program to live.

For instance, observations revealed that, during pregnancy, the chin of a fetus got stuck in a protrusion in the uterus. The fetus unsuccessfully tried to free itself by using its hands and feet, and in the end, managed to do so by turning its head around. This leads us to assume that the fetus is provided with the minimum program that enables it to condense the information gathered by using the hands and feet, process it in the brain, and finally find a way to survive. On the evolutionary scale, even insects are equipped with a similar mechanism of survival.

TAJIKA: Even bacteria have some kind of basic movement.

KOBAYASHI: That's right. That's why I support the view that the brain of a fetus is provided with a program to think. That is, a program that condenses and processes information to use for survival. After birth, this program enters gradually into the control area of the cerebral cortex, then of the frontal lobe, to serve as a program to think for a certain purpose.

TAJIKA: Hmm. I see...

KOBAYASHI: That's why my concept is that everything is innate; everything is given at the onset. The first translation machines were programmed with the entire grammar of a language first, after which they would process and translate sentences, but this didn't work. When researchers finally adopted a system that selected a sentence from among the multiple sentences pre-stored as prospective translations for a sentence in question, immediately the efficiency of the machine improved.

TAJIKA: That is true. That kind of efficiency is similar in structure to the mechanism that enabled the IBM computer called Deep Blue to defeat the human champion in a chess game. All data were pre-stored, and then selected.

Nevertheless, such an algorithmic approach alone could never enable the computer to create one of the natural languages that humans use to communicate. That's because the computer cannot differentiate between the rules of the language and its meanings.

For example, take the word "silly". If a child writes "1+1=3", then we would say, "Hey, that's silly". But if a child saves pocket money his mother gives him and then buys her a Mother's Day present, the mother might say, "Oh, you silly thing", and she would be praising the child. The word "silly" does not have a uniform meaning - it varies on the context.

KOBAYASHI: Could that possibly be interpreted as affective information? Depending on the rhythm or pitch contained in the word "silly", one can tell whether it is a praise or just "silly" in the true sense of the word. For instance, when a mother says to a child "Good girl" or "Good boy" it is always pronounced with same pitch and rhythm regardless of who is saying it.

TAJIKA: That is true.

KOBAYASHI: "Good boy, or good girl" is cognitive information, isn't it? The rhythm or pitch that carries it, is affective information. The child senses that pitch or rhythm. That is why - apart from the context, of course, which also plays a role - the child can tell, through interaction with the mother, whether he or she is being praised or not. Affective information, in my opinion, is something we should really take into consideration. It would certainly make a lot of difference to robotics, I must say, if we could develop a system that enables a robot to assimilate or express affective information. In the case of AIBO, the dog-shaped robot developed by SONY, as I hear, affective information is also taken into account.

TAJIKA: What impressed me most when reading your book, "Sodatsu Sodateru, Fureaino Kosodate (growing and raising: skinship for child rearing)" was your suggestion that relationship between a mother and a child develops through breastfeeding. "The Future Astroboy" explored the cardinal role that emotions play in generating intelligence.

When a child is thinking, thinking is activated not only by a logical circuit, but also by the assimilation of emotions that are experienced in the interaction between the mother and the child. Intelligence and emotion cannot be separated as easily as water and oil. That seems to me the most important message we ought to keep in mind.

KOBAYASHI: That means even language, our most important communication tool, is combined with affective information. In other words, the systems of living beings can be said to combine cognitive information that can be processed digitally with affective information that can only be processed in an analogue way.

TAJIKA: The conclusion is that if we want to provide a robot with intelligence equivalent to that of a human, we will have to closely observe how a human acquires intelligence or feelings, because robots are modeled after humans.


Nobukazu TAJIKA
Born in Toyama Prefecture in 1953.
Freelance journalist and non-fiction writer.
Graduated from the School of Engineering, Tohoku University, majoring in architecture. Certified first-grade architect. After a career as a journalist for ""The Nikkei Architecture"", he turned to writing, publishing a series of original reports on contemporary science and philosophy from a journalistic perspective. His book ""The Future Astroboy"" (published by ASCII), the result of a two-year interview with researchers in robotics, brain science and artificial intelligence, explores a new concept of humans.

Born in Tokyo in 1927. Doctor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Tokyo
Director, Child Research Net (CRN)
Director, Children's Rainbow center (Japan Information & Training Center for problems related to Child Abuse and Adolescent's Turmoil)
Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
President Emeritus, National Children's Hospital
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