Infants outperform artificial intelligence (AI) when it comes to spotting motivations that drive human behaviour, according to a study by New York University (NYU).
The study was published in the June 2023 edition of Cognition magazine. A team of psychology and data science researchers placed 11-month-old infants head-to-head with learning-driven neural network models (NNMs) that modelled human behaviour. The researchers showed the infants and NNMs “very simple environments where shapes represented people, and those shapes took actions.”
“The question was: could infants predict what the motivations were, the invisible cause of those actions, better than the learning-driven network models?” said Dr. Moira Dillon, Assistant Professor of Psychology at NYU.
Those actions are known as “commonsense psychology,” which refers to, well, common sense things that people do in their everyday lives. For example, if someone reaches for a glass of water, our common sense tells us that they’re probably thirsty and want to drink water.
Babies can tell what you want
In the end, the NYU researchers found that the babies “recognise human-like motivations even in the simplified actions of animated shapes.” They are able to predict that common sense actions are driven by “hidden but consistent goals” – honestly, pretty impressive. Who knew that little pooping gremlins could understand so much?
On the other hand, the NNMs “failed to capture infants’ knowledge.” They showed “no such evidence of understanding the motivations underlying such actions. This means that AI is missing “key foundational principles of commonsense psychology that infants possess,” wrote the NYU researchers.
Why is this important? Commonsense psychology is foundational to mankind’s social development. It is “limited, abstract, and reflects our revolutionary inheritance, yet it can accommodate any context or culture in which that infant might live and learn,” said Dr. Dillon.
In other words, commonsense psychology is an important part of what makes us human, as cheesy as it sounds. This also means that AI could take a while to catch up to babies, and us adults are safe for now. A win for the humans!