Babies Are Capable of Complex Reasoning


Credit: L. Bonatti & E. Teglas

Babies Are Capable of Complex Reasoning

Babies areِ sophisticated mini-statisticians, a newِ study finds, capable ofِ making judgments aboutِ the probability ofِ anِ event they’veِ neverِ seen before.
Using a computer model, researchers wereِ able toِ accurately predict whatِ a baby wouldِ knowِ aboutِ a particularِ event ifِ givenِ certainِ information.
The model mayِ beِ useful inِ engineering artificial intelligence thatِ reacts appropriately toِ theِ world, saidِ study researcher Josh Tenenbaum, a cognitive scientist atِ the Massachusetts Institute ofِ Technology.

You were expecting … ?

Years ofِ research haveِ shown thatِ young babies grasp allِ sorts ofِ information, fromِ the fact thatِ physical objects can’tِ blink inِ andِ out ofِ existence toِ howِ social hierarchies work.
These studies typically rely onِ a method called violation inِ expectation, inِ which researchers monitor babies’ gazes asِ they lookِ atِ normal andِ atypical scenarios.
If a baby looksِ longer atِ anِ event orِ situation inِ which somethingِ isِ off (a big, strong cartoon character bowing downِ to a weakling, forِ example), thatِ fascinated gaze indicatesِ that theِ baby knowsِ the situation isِ unusual.

Sophisticated reasoning

In theِ videos, a set ofِ objects bounced aroundِ anِ enclosure withِ oneِ exit.
A blue barrier wouldِ thenِ appearِ on theِ screen, covering theِ enclosure.
See a video ofِ the experiments] The likelihood ofِ anyِ given object exiting depends onِ manyِ factors: How manyِ of eachِ type ofِ objects thereِ are, howِ long theِ scene wasِ covered up, howِ the objects areِ moving andِ where theyِ were theِ lastِ time theِ baby sawِ them.

Learning what babies know

Tenenbaum saidِ heِ hopes toِ doِ more experiments toِ refine theِ model, adding inِ concepts thatِ babies mightِ grasp suchِ asِ friction andِ gravity.
The method couldِ beِ used toِ understand babies’ perception ofِ social situations, too, Tenenbaum said.
The goal, Tenenbaum said, isِ a sort ofِ reverse engineering ofِ infant cognition thatِ mightِ helpِ robotics developers build machines thatِ interact withِ theِ world moreِ likeِ the human brain does.