School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM CoSy project

Online and Offline Creativity
Aaron Sloman
Last updated: 10 Feb 2009
Installed: 21 Jan 2009

Introduction and background

I recently learnt that this very interesting 2005 paper by Karen
Adolph is available online:

This is the full reference

    Karen Adolph
    Learning to Learn in the Development of Action. In
    Action As An Organizer of Learning and Development: Volume 33 in
    Volume 33 in the Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology
    Series 2005
    Edited by John J. Rieser, Jeffrey J. Lockman, Charles A. Nelson

I had never read it, though I heard her talk about the work at
the CoSy workshop in Sept 2007. I've added the link to the
workshop website:

She addresses the question whether great variability in some aspect
of the environment can *prevent* associative learning from

    "Variable contents may help discourage simple associative

I think is somewhat misleading.

It's not a case of discouraging, but simply *not enabling* the
appropriate frequencies to be encountered. If variable contents are
encountered often enough the associatiative learning *will* happen
and that's how fluency in complex new areas (including language
learning, mathematics, music, athletic performances, etc.) develops.

Each multiplication of two numbers is different from every other,
and the first time you need to know what 5 x 13 is you may have to
work it out. But if you encounter that problem often enough you can
'cache' the result. (Some people only need to do it once.)

Humans transfer vast amounts of knowledge from temporary results of
reasoning to long term associative stores, in some cases only if the
results are repeated. Presumably that can also happen to a subset of
the arboreal locomotion problems. (There is also some one-shot
learning, e.g. listening to a lecture on a mathematical proof and
remembering how the proof goes, or Mozart hearing a performance and
then writing it down).

But when the combinatorics imply that the total set of possibilities
for action in a type of situation is very large, many that are
encountered for the first time will require the use of reasoning.

So instead of talking about variety 'preventing' learning, we should
talk about what doesn't happen as preventing the learning).


Reading Adolph's paper reminded me of an important distinction that
needs to be made explicit.

It's the distinction between dealing with novel situations 'online'
(the word she uses) and dealing with them 'offline', e.g. during
planning of possible actions, reasoning about what would have
happened if, making predictions about consequences of something
observed, creating explanations of observed evidence.

Adolph's examples all (or nearly all?) involve dealing 'online' with
novelty, and she emphasises that explicitly.

This means that the performance of a complex action is done
incrementally and each sub-step is actually performed, then a
subsequent sub-step selected from the possibilities that then become
available (sometimes from a continous range of possibilities rather
than a discrete set).

This does not require the information processing system to be able
to represent multiple branching sets of future states and actions.
There is only one set of branches at any time, the set of possible
next things to do -- where the agent is already physically poised to
select and do one of them.

The situations we were envisaging testing were computationally more
sophisticated because they required envisaging choices in possible
*future* situations, where the choices could lead to new choices.

Perhaps 'anticpatory' could be contrasted with 'online' in this

I don't think I have ever read, or written, or said anything very
clear about the difference between online creativity and
anticipatory creativity, though I point to the difference in the
video of the child pushing a broom, which I think you have seen me

In that example we can distinguish the two sorts of creativity.

Online creativity involves dealing with situations where the broom
handle is caught between rails, or when the broom has been pushed
into a skirting board that restricts its motion, and maybe when the
broom is being steered down a corridor for the first time.

Anticipatory creativity is demonstrated when in advance of a doorway
leading off to the right the toddler starts moving the broom handle
to the left so that it can then be pushed forward into the room when
he has reached the doorway. That's only one step anticipation,
whereas I think the orangutans have to solve more complex problems.

In part they can do the more complex anticipation by ignoring
details that cannot be discarded in the online case, e.g. the
precise positions of limbs, the precise contents of the visual field
of view, the precise momentum produced by previous movements, etc.

Making the problem more abstract by ignoring details increases the
sophistication of the mechanisms and forms of representation
required (the ability both to derive abstractions from detailed
percepts and detailed sets of motor signals, and also to use the
abstractions in producing detailed behaviours), but that greater
sophistication results in much reduced computational load -- there's
much less information to process in selecting the actions.

It seems to require a large extension of the brain to process that
kind of much-reduced information! (Including frontal lobes?)

Is what I have just written familiar from any of the animal
behaviour literature? I don't recall ever having read it in the
context of AI/Robotics, but it is so obvious that someone must have
noted it.

Two sorts of creativity

Links with AI and Cognitive Science viewpoints

To be added.

Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham