Intelligent Systems And Their Societies Walter Fritz

Definition of Words


If you have a slightly different concept for the words used in this e-book, you will not understand what I am explaining. This is why important words about Intelligent Systems are underlined; you can jump to their definition.


Is it important that we communicate with well defined words?
Since we all know what the words mean, why spend time defining them? Every word refers to a concept, which exists in the memory of the listener's mind. Some concepts are the product of nonverbal experiences. For instance, when we were very young, we saw several kinds of animals, which other people called dogs; this formed our concept of "dog". Since the particular animals we saw differed from those seen by other people, our concept is slightly different from the concepts that other people have. On the other hand, certain concepts are the result of verbal or written explanations by other people. Here the explanations differed, so again our concept is not identical to that of other people. Any concept that we have, therefore, consists of other, previously learned, concepts and these concepts differ from person to person. So you see, no two people can have exactly the same concept, as related to a given word.

The experience of science has shown that only when we correctly define all the words we use, then it is possible to come to firm conclusions. In physics, chemistry, and all the other "hard" sciences, this condition is true. Our everyday experiences show that slightly different interpretations of words produce unnecessary confusion and make understanding another person difficult.

The following is a quote from a personal communication received from Dr. Ricardo Guibourg:

"The semantic content of a word, in a communication process, depends on the degree of intersection between the meaning given by the sender and the meaning given by the receiver. When we talk about a social and not only an individual communication, the semantic content depends on the agreement, by society, on the essence of the meaning of the word (and to a certain extent also on the more or less vague similarity of meaning, or on the greater or lesser agreement on some aspects where there is no general agreement on the meaning). This we call the gray zone.
In this respect it is worthwhile to remind us, that this gray zone is not precise: generally the passage from light to the gray zone and from that to darkness is not sudden, so that the agreement on the meaning is a continuous passage from no agreement to full agreement. Naturally there is a quantitative difference between "precise" words (those that have more light in the center, more darkness in their environment and a narrow intermediate zone) and "vague" words (which have a narrow lighted zone and a wide gray zone that extends gradually into the environment).
When a word is so vague that even the center of its meaning has much gray, we have good reason to simply qualify it as empty of meaning. This does not mean that people have no concept for this word, but rather that there is very little agreement between these concepts."
When Dr. Guibourg talks about meanings, he talks about the content of concepts.

When we try to communicate with vague or empty words, the results will necessarily be disastrous. The other person attaches the wrong meaning to our words. There is only a partial communication of ideas. It would be impossible to use vague or empty words in human activities that must have concrete results.

A medic who says to another, "John is not well in his tummy", would be using words of inadmissible vagueness. A second medic cannot treat the patient on the basis of this information. Thus, a medic would say: "John has appendicitis". Now, effective treatment is possible.

The same is true in physics, engineering, chemistry, finance, and so forth. All of these areas have their own specific words with precise meanings. No bank could operate if words such as "interest" and "current account" had vague meanings. No one in a bank would think that "interest" means that John looks attentively at a girl or that "current account" is an account on which John is working at the present.

Usually, mental methods, such as subtraction, accounting, deduction, that use precise terms are those that produce usable results. Those methods that use vague or empty concepts, such as those presently used in philosophy and ethics, do not produce results useful for daily life.

Therefore, we must give precise definitions for all important concepts used in investigating intelligent systems, societies, and ethics.

We will define many words that have a vague meaning at the present or which we use with another meaning, slightly different from the one normally used. We intend to define them with sufficient precision, so that we could use them in mathematical formulas. We will use a defined word in this text only in the way that we have defined. We will leave undefined only those words of secondary importance or those in daily use, where the chance of a substantially different interpretation is remote.

When defining a word, we have not spent much time deciding which concept the majority of people use, as related to the given word. In any case, even that concept varies from person to person. We have instead paid more attention to defining a concept so that it is useful.

The purpose of having a concept is to think and to work with it within the mind. This purpose assumes that the concept is useful for thinking. (That the most important property of a concept is its usefulness is perhaps a new point of view.) If we say that a concept is true, we mean that the concept corresponds to a part of our environment, to part of our universe. Also we could mean that it corresponds to a concept, of the same name, in the brains of a majority of people.

Let's first look at correspondence with the environment. As we will see later, we cannot really know our environment. We do not know what it is or how it is. All we can know are our concepts, which are based on sensations from the environment (sensations include hearing and reading concepts of other persons) and concepts based on our previous concepts. For instance, if somebody says the words "parallel universes" for the first time, he creates a concept. That does not mean that our environment has changed. The creation of a concept does not change the environment. But the concept may be useless for thinking and acting and should be discarded, or it may be useful and should be kept. Does it help in choosing an adequate action (vocal or by our limbs) in a given situation? Does it help in imagining, and finally leads to a useful action?

So far our considerations about a concept are in direct relation to our environment. On the other hand a concept can also be similar to a concept that a majority of people have. This means that when we communicate the concept with a word, we can be relatively certain that we are understood. Here we are not talking about the usefulness of a concept for acting but of the usefulness for communication with other persons -- another point of view that the most important property of a concept is its usefulness. See also Misuse of Concepts (For continuous reading, like a book - do not enter here now).


A note on anthropomorphism
When talking about the artificial intelligent system (IS), we will be using many words that are normally used to describe states and processes within humans, such as brain, mind, concept, learn, abstract, objective, situation, plan, experience, attention, sensing, curiosity, and so forth. These words were coined when the only known IS was the human being. In physics, the term "force" was originally taken from the human realm, but then extended to mean any force. In the same way, we will use many words for mental states and processes in their general sense, independent of whether we apply them to humans, animals, electronic ISs, or even possible extraterrestrial beings.


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Last Edited 27 Feb. 2013 / Walter Fritz
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