Thinking about thinking, and multi-coloured hats

A sudden immersion in the world of end-of-term report cards brought me face to face last week with a note of my grand-daughter’s ability to “empathise with characters using red hat thinking”. Ignoring my own pedantic grimace at the syntactical implication that the application of “red hat thinking” might be a curriculum objective, I passed quickly through the bemusement that the thoughts of Edward de Bono have so passed into the vernacular of North London primary schools that they are referenced in lower case, and moved on to engage in a little blue-sky thinking of my own. How would a Super Artificial Intelligence (SAI) look wearing de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats?

A flick through the colour descriptions suggests that the thinking being considered has little to do with neurological processes or activities of mind, and is employed more in the colloquial sense of applying “new ways of thinking” that are lateral, or outside the box, or indeed even blue-sky. They betoken attitudes and at best establish distinctions that may be useful in achieving a result, getting the sale, appreciating an alternative point of view, or changing a mind.

So, in summary, we focus on the facts (white), think positive (yellow), pick holes (black), empathise (red), blue-sky (green?) and then consolidate the process (blue). While the metaphor gets a bit unwieldy towards the end – perhaps the blue sky should really be blue, and the process of fertilising and growing the end result should be green – It still leaves the question to play with: what would SAI do with these hats? After all, is it reasonable to suppose that if human intelligence evolved through a consciousness that manifested these attitudes, a machine intelligence might evolve in a similar way? And if it did, how would it get on with all this headgear?

Bearing in mind the extent to which AI starts from a programmed foundation for which no hats are required, in any sense, and evolves into SAI through an emerging capacity to enhance its own potency, it’s hard to see how any of these hats will matter except insofar as a programmed requirement to get along with humans is retained. The binary distinction of white and black would probably keep those hats in play. But in the link above, we note that the black hat (Judgement) is described as “probably the most powerful and useful . . . but a problem if overused.”

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