For it has almost always been assumed that to emulate in any generality a process as sophisticated as human thinking would necessarily require an extremely complicated system. So what has mostly been done is to try to construct systems that perform only rather specific tasks.

But then in order to be sure that the appropriate tasks will actually be performed the systems tend to be set up—as in traditional engineering—so that their behavior can readily be foreseen, typically by standard mathematical or logical methods. And what this almost invariably means is that their behavior is forced to be fairly simple. Indeed, even when the systems are set up with some ability to learn they usually tend to act—much like the robots of classical fiction—with far too much simplicity and predictability to correspond to realistic typical human thinking.

So on the basis of traditional intuition, one might then assume that the way to solve this problem must be to use systems with more complicated underlying rules, perhaps more closely based on details of human psychology or neurophysiology. But from the discoveries in this book we know that this is not the case, and that in fact very simple rules are quite sufficient to produce highly complex behavior.

Nevertheless, if one maintains the goal of performing specific well-defined tasks, there may still be a problem. For insofar as the behavior that one gets is complex, it will usually be difficult to direct it to specific tasks—an issue rather familiar from dealing with actual humans. So what this means is that most likely it will at some level be much easier to reproduce general human-like thinking than to set up some special version of human-like thinking only for specific tasks.

And it is in the end my strong suspicion that most of the core processes needed for general human-like thinking will be able to be implemented with rather simple rules.

But a crucial point is that on their own such processes will most likely not be sufficient to create a system that one would readily recognize as exhibiting human-like thinking. For in order to be able to relate in a meaningful way to actual humans, the system would almost certainly have to have built up a human-like base of experience.

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From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]