Updates to the Manifesto for an IDO Approach to Understanding Ourselves as Autonomous Agents

I’ve finally made substantial updates to the draft Manifesto for an Integrative Design-oriented Approach to Understanding Humans as Autonomous Agents, which I first published in 2019.

Aims of the manifesto

The manifesto describes a way to deeply understanding ourselves, each other and possible artificial general intelligence. While the manifesto is mainly aimed at ambitious researchers and developers, it is also important for anyone pursuing such understanding. It should lead, for instance, to books, articles and software for the general knowledge-oriented public.

This is a continuation of a research project I first embarked upon in my Ph.D. thesis in cognitive science, way back in 1994: Goal Processing in Autonomous Agents and also described in my first Cognitive Productivity book.

However, this manifesto is not predicated on my own work. It is meant to be a collaborative effort that encourages researchers and developers in many fields to appreciate and pursue this approach. This draft will ultimately lead to co-authored publications in some journals about the approach. Hopefully, in turn this will lead to workshops, conferences, grants, and lots of research and new products! I myself have long been inspired by this ambitious approach, e.g., in developing a theory of sleep-onset and insomnolence, the cognitive shuffle, mySleepButton® and more.

There’s more to its aims than that, as you can tell from the draft.

Recent updates to the draft manifesto

Recent changes:

  • Changed the tone to make it more welcoming. I’ve made it clear that this is not meant to be criticizing other approaches, or evangelical. It’s more “unitarian” in spirit.
  • Added some more text on layering.
  • Cut some of the repetition (some of what may still appear repetitious is meant to highlight different aspects of complex concepts).
  • Added a positive nod to connectionism, while clarifying its (often ignored) limitations.
  • Reorganized content, putting related concepts together.
  • Made the text more explicit about the need for IDO projects to involve a new breed of “software” architects.
  • Made the document more explicit about consciousness, on the (still implicit) assumption that consciousness is either “the great integration” or “the great integrator” (or both).
  • Added some more references.
  • Used bold text to facilitate reading.
  • Made some other changes.

Those changes are partly to address (a) written feedback from Alice Dauphin and Guillaume Pourcelle (European Ph.D. students in AI-related disciplines); and (b) feedback from conversations with others.

There’s lots left to do…

Such as:

  • The manifesto needs explicitly to incorporate social aspects of autonomous agency, making it clear that autonomy is a matter of interdependence. A good example of this, which I often refer to, is Michel Aubé’s (in my opinion brilliant) theory of “emotion”. Aubé claims that emotions are a form of motivation that revolve around commitments. It is informative to note that from the IDO stance, one does not argue about what emotions “really are”.
  • Aubé’s theory then need not even be read as a theory of “emotion”; it’s an IDO theory of autonomous agency. So we may reinterpret Aubé’s theory as saying that an important aspect of human agency (not just “emotion”) is to secure and protect commitments. Theories of social signalling, such as The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, or status (e.g., The Status Game), can be reframed and made subordinate to such an IDO theory: social signaling and status are valuable in as much as they help humans secure commitments. Like many of the paragraphs in the manifesto, this can be expanded to an entire article.
  • Clarify that the IDO approach is pluralistic: not aiming for rapid convergence on a small set of theories. More generally, we need to take ego and status out of the game, moving away from theories that are named after people. IDO theories must involve multiple contributions and stand independently from contributing minds. It’s like complex software that way. iOS (or iPhone) is obviously not created by a single person. There’s a team of software architects whose members change. Yet iOS (or iPhone) is for all intents and purposes infinitely simpler than the human mind (brain).
  • In that spirit, the manifesto calls for a greater variety of references, without turning into an encyclopedia.
  • Make it more clear that multiple types of integration are central to the IDO approach: integration of information in mind/brain/silicon, integration of functions, integration of theories, and more.

Demystifying Emotions

Agnes Moors, Associate Professor of Psychology at KU Leuven, is an emotion researcher who has published several papers that are relevant to the manifesto, such as her 2017 Integration of Two Skeptical Emotion Theories. Rather than seeing emotions as inherently stimulus-based drivers of behavior, she sees emotions in the context of (and resulting from) purposive agency. She also attempts to understand integration of multiple mental functions, in terms of an information-processing architecture.

I have begun reading Moors’ new (2022) book, published by Cambridge University Press: Demystifying Emotions. It is very high-caliber and clearly quite relevant to the IDO approach!

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Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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