Abstract: Aaron Sloman

Title: The biological bases of mathematical competences: a challenge for AGI

Evolution produced many species whose members are pre-programmed with almost all the competences and knowledge they will ever need. Others appear to start with very little and learn what they need, but appearances can deceive. I conjecture that evolution produced powerful innate meta-knowledge about a class of environments containing 3-D structures and processes involving materials of many kinds. In humans and several other species these innate learning mechanisms seem initially to use exploration techniques to capture a variety of useful generalisations after which there is a “phase transition” in which learnt generalisations are displaced by a new generative architecture that allows novel situations and problems to be dealt with by reasoning — a pre-cursor to explicit mathematical theorem proving in topology, geometry, arithmetic, and kinematics. This process seems to occur in some non-human animals and in pre-verbal human toddlers, but is clearest in the switch from pattern-based to syntax-based language use. The discovery of non-linguistic toddler theorems has largely gone unnoticed, though Piaget investigated some of the phenomena, and creative problem solving in some other animals also provides clues. A later evolutionary development seems to have enabled humans to cope with domains that involve both regularities and exceptions, explaining “U-shaped” language learning. Only humans appear to be able to develop meta-meta-competences needed for teaching learnt “theorems” and their proofs. I’ll sketch a speculative theory, present examples, and propose a research programme, reducing the ‘G’ in AGI, while promising increased power in return.