On the spuriousness of the symbolic/subsymbolic distinction

Minds and Machines 3 (3):253-70 (1993)
The article criticises the attempt to establish connectionism as an alternative theory of human cognitive architecture through the introduction of thesymbolic/subsymbolic distinction (Smolensky, 1988). The reasons for the introduction of this distinction are discussed and found to be unconvincing. It is shown that thebrittleness problem has been solved for a large class ofsymbolic learning systems, e.g. the class oftop-down induction of decision-trees (TDIDT) learning systems. Also, the process of articulating expert knowledge in rules seems quite practical for many important domains, including common sense knowledge.The article discusses several experimental comparisons betweenTDIDT systems and artificial neural networks using the error backpropagation algorithm (ANNs usingBP). The properties of one of theTDIDT systemsID3 (Quinlan, 1986a) are examined in detail. It is argued that the differences in performance betweenANNs usingBP andTDIDT systems reflect slightly different inductive biases but are not systematic; these differences do not support the view that symbolic and subsymbolic systems are fundamentally incompatible. It is concluded, that thesymbolic/subsymbolic distinction is spurious. It cannot establish connectionism as an alternative cognitive architecture.
Keywords Artificial Intelligence  Connectionism  Metaphysics  Symbolic  Smolensky, P
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DOI 10.1007/BF00976281
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Paul Smolensky (1988). On the Proper Treatment of Connectionism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 11 (1):1-23.

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