paradigm of problem solving

In  the 19th century, engineering was almost a synonym of mechanical engineering. A typical way to solve problem at that time was analyzing the mechanical structure, building the machine with gears and wrench and letting steam engine to drive the machine.

Steam engine is a revolutionary innovation as it introduced a “paradigm” for problem solving. If you have a mechanic description of the solution for your problem, steam engine can take care of the rest. There were tons of derivative innovation following this “paradigm”, such as plane, steamship, submarine, automobile and so on. (some of them used internal combustion engine instead, an improvement of steam engine). Theoretically steam engine and its derivatives can solve any mechanical problem, what people need to do is to describe the problem in mechanical language.

Nowadays people have been accustomed to resort to computers when they have problems. Computer is another revolutionary innovation because it provides a similar paradigm. The paradigm for computer is to formulate a arithmetic model, propose an algorithm correspondingly and run the algorithm with computers. A computer is basically a calculator that can do addition very fast. Since all arithmetic operations can reduce to to additions, theoretically computer provides us the ability to solve any arithmetic problems, what people need to is just to describe the problem in arithmetic language.

Despite their different appearance,  steam engine and computer share some common points. Both of them provide a good solution for a fundamental problem, steam engine deals with the problem of “generate rotary movement with strong force” and computer deals with the problem of “do addition with fast speed”.

When a problem can be divided into a large sequence of fundamental problems, we can get the solution of this problem by solving those fundamental problems. With this in mind we can easily conclude there are a lot of other paradigms except for those described above. The figure shows the paradigm for steam engine and computer.

Why paradigm?

The reason why we need paradigm is that paradigm can save us time. The real world is too complex and we cannot do everything well. A reasonable way is to solve a small set of problems perfectly and transform the problem we want to solve into these problems.

Limitations of Paradigm

Every paradigm has its own limitation, which is determined by the two factors. The first one is the fundamental problem itself, you cannot use steam engine to read this blog since the transmission of bits cannot be modeled as a sequence of physical movement.

The second factor is our ability to solve fundamental problems. Doubtlessly computer is the most awesome invention we human beings have ever had. However, there are still many things that computers cannot do in spite of the efforts in the past 50 years. They cannot understand imprecise information, they have very limited communication skills, and so on. All these problems belong to the field of artificial intelligence.  The reason is that although theoretically there exists an arithmetic model for all these problems, the number of arithmetic operations is beyond the ability of any existing computer even for a small problem.

In the dawn era of computers, scientists estimated that it should take only 10-20 years for machines to catch up with humans in terms of intelligence. However, the expected date was missed again and again. There was no big improvement in the recent 30 years and it seems that all researchers are just waiting computers to be stronger and stronger under moore’s law.

However, I strongly believe most of the scientists are in the wrong track. The paradigm of computers cannot provide us a perfect solution for artificial intelligence. Human intelligence cannot be described in arithmetic model with appropriate complexity. We need other types of paradigm to get perfect solution of artificial intelligence.


Jing Conan Wang
wangjing A_T bu.edu

reference:
http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0132.pdf
Henry Ford <my life and my work>

image source
http://imspeaking.wordpress.com/category/problem/
http://vector-images.com/clipart/clp13013/

Steam engine makes it possible for machines to move by themselve. Later the internal-combustion engine took the place of steam engine, but steamer was the beginning of this revolution.

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