Report Number: CS-TR-87-1173
Institution: Stanford University, Department of Computer Science
Title: Review of Winograd and Flores' Understanding Computers and Cognition
Author: Clancey, William J.
Date: July 1986
Abstract: AI researchers and cognitive scientists commonly believe that thinking involves manipulating representions. Thinking involves search, inference, and making choice. This is how we model reasoning and what goes on in the brain is similar. Winograd and Flores present a radically different view. They claim that our knowledge is not represented in the brain at all, but rather consists of an unformalized shared background, from which we articulate representations in order to cope with new situations. In constrast, computer programs contain only pre-selected objects and properties, and there is no basis for moving beyond this initial formalization when breakdown occurs. Winograd and Flores provide convincing arguments with examples familiar to most AI researchers. However, they significally understate the role of representation in mediating intelligent behavior, specifically in the process of reflection, when representations are generated prior to physical action. Furthermore, they do not consider the practical benefits of expert systems and the extent of what can be accomplished. Nevertheless, the book is crisp and stimulating. It should make AI researchers more cautious about what they are doing, more aware of the nature of formalization, and more open to alternative views.