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Revolutionizing Decision Making: The Power of Modular AI's Multiple ‘Selves’.

Aug 22, 2023

A team of researchers at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute recently built an AI with multiple, modular “selves” and found that it outcompeted a more traditionally designed AI with a single network comprising a singular, whole “self.”

In a stripped-down survival game environment presenting the AI agents with decisions involving prioritization of competing or conflicting goals, the modular-selves AI was able to leverage a set of different perspectives (each prioritizing its own goal and relying on its own mental model of the environment) that argued the best course of action before moving forward as a single “body.” The researchers found that the modular-selves agent outlearned and outperformed the single-self agent, and moreover, when the game environment and goals shifted, the modular AI adapted more quickly and effectively to change.

Don’t worry: this isn’t the part where we tell you that dissociative robots are coming for your job. But I will argue that these results are of interest beyond the communities working to build more adaptable AI tools that are better able to navigate complex environments and competing priorities.

Living in a moment when scientists and engineers are working feverishly to design systems capable of tackling challenges in ways similar to or surpassing our human brains presents us with a rich opportunity to reflect on our own decision making, learning and leadership.

How do you support, structure and manage generative debate on your team or within your organization? How do you engage different perspectives and mental models to facilitate learning? And perhaps more personally and radically, how do you step “outside of yourself” to get an alternative view on a challenge?

Regarding the latter, I’m reminded of a practice that an old friend and mentor, the great leadership/communications coach Gina Barnett, often taught in her workshops. After asking executives to identify a truly difficult challenge or struggle in their lives or work, she’d instruct them to think of someone they deeply admired as a leader, problem solver, or thinker, and she would then guide them through a set of exercises to explore the admired leader’s values and perspective. Finally, the executives would be invited to apply that alternative perspective to their own challenge and also use it as a lens to reexamine the way in which they had been approaching the problem in the past.

This isn’t unlike spinning up and leveraging a modular, alternate “self” that can help you get a different perspective on a problem or at least see that another approach might be possible and even highly beneficial in getting unstuck. (via Jeffrey)