Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pattern Recognition

My brother is getting his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering/autonomous systems/robots, so as Jackson begins the intense learning phase of toddlerhood, it's apparently sparked quite a few convos between brother and dad (grandpa) about the pattern recognition work the kiddo is doing right now and how sophisticated and complex a computation it is.

It's amazing that anyone figures out anything at all. Two things I noticed today:

Horses, or, in our little world, "nay-nays" (because "horses say neigh-neigh"), are one of Jackson's favorites, and he can spot a horse at 50 paces. It can be a cartoon, a photograph, a big Budweiser horse, a pony, or even the rear end of a racehorse, and he correctly identifies it as a "nay-nay". But lately we've been exploring some complexities of the English language, namely that the word horse sometimes appears in places where there are no horses.

What is a baby to make of "seahorses" or "horseradish" or the idiom "hold your horses"? At one point can he understand that seahorses are fish but their heads look like horses, so the Great Namer dubbed them seahorses? (In the meantime, I'm just helplessly saying, "Yes, water nay-nay!") And horseradish is even more complicated, because you have to explain "radish", and then try to explain that maybe it was such a bitter food that old-timey farmers thought those radishes were only fit to feed to horses and other livestock, and therefore the Great Namer called it "horseradish." That's a lot of information! When will he have the knowledge base for that to make sense?

Similarly, I dare a computer to correctly to correctly distinguish between a car and a truck 100 percent of the time. Semi-trailers are trucks, and Mini Coopers are cars, so if the size is extreme, that's doable distinction, but what about minivans, crossover vehicles and SUVs? Are they cars or trucks? And what to do about armored cars, which are probably trucks but are called cars? Me and Jackson are clearly going to be parsing the finer points of car, truck, bus, train, farm vehicle, construction equipment and so forth for many, many years!

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