TITLE: An Unexpected Christmas Gift AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 20, 2007 1:45 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Some students do listen to what we say in class. Back when I taught Artificial Intelligence every year, I used to relate a story from Russell and Norvig when talking about the role knowledge plays in how an agent can learn. Here is the quote that was my inspiration, from Pages 687-688 of their 2nd edition:
Sometimes one leaps to general conclusions after only one observation. Gary Larson once drew a cartoon in which a bespectacled caveman, Zog, is roasting his lizard on the end of a pointed stick. He is watched by an amazed crowd of his less intellectual contemporaries, who have been using their bare hands to hold their victuals over the fire. This enlightening experience is enough to convince the watchers of a general principle of painless cooking.
I continued to use this story long after I had moved on from this textbook, because it is a wonderful example of explanation-based learning. Unfortunately, Russell and Norvig did not include the cartoon, and I couldn't find it anywhere. So I just told the story and then said to the class -- every class of AI students to go through my university over a ten-year stretch -- that I hoped to find it some day. As of yesterday, I can, thanks to a former student. Ryan heard me on that day in his AI course and never forgot. He looked for that cartoon in many of the ways I have over the years, by googling and by thumbing through Gary Larson collections in the book stores. Not too long ago, he found it via a mix of the two methods and tracked it down in print. Yesterday, on one of his annual visits (he's a local), he brought me a gift-wrapped copy. And I was happy! Sadly, I still can't show you or any of my former students who read my blog. Sorry. I once posted another Gary Larson cartoon in a blog entry, with a link to the author's web site, only to eventually a pre-cease-and-desist e-mail asking me to pull the cartoon from the entry. I'll not play with that fire again. This is almost another illustration of the playful message of the very cartoon in question: learning not to stick one's hand into the flame from a single example. But not quite -- it's really an example of learning from negative feedback. Thanks to Ryan nonetheless, for remembering an old prof's story from many years ago and for thinking of him during this Christmas season! Both the book and the remembering make excellent gifts. -----