Connectionism and novel combinations of skills: Implications for cognitive architecture [Book Review]

Minds and Machines 9 (2):197-221 (1999)
Abstract
  In the late 1980s, there were many who heralded the emergence of connectionism as a new paradigm – one which would eventually displace the classically symbolic methods then dominant in AI and Cognitive Science. At present, there remain influential connectionists who continue to defend connectionism as a more realistic paradigm for modeling cognition, at all levels of abstraction, than the classical methods of AI. Not infrequently, one encounters arguments along these lines: given what we know about neurophysiology, it is just not plausible to suppose that our brains are digital computers. Thus, they could not support a classical architecture. I argue here for a middle ground between connectionism and classicism. I assume, for argument's sake, that some form(s) of connectionism can provide reasonably approximate models – at least for lower-level cognitive processes. Given this assumption, I argue on theoretical and empirical grounds that most human mental skills must reside in separate connectionist modules or sub-networks. Ultimately, it is argued that the basic tenets of connectionism, in conjunction with the fact that humans often employ novel combinations of skill modules in rule following and problem solving, lead to the plausible conclusion that, in certain domains, high level cognition requires some form of classical architecture. During the course of argument, it emerges that only an architecture with classical structure could support the novel patterns of information flow and interaction that would exist among the relevant set of modules. Such a classical architecture might very well reside in the abstract levels of a hybrid system whose lower-level modules are purely connectionist
Keywords Architecture  Artificial Intelligence  Connectionism  Module  Science
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