The Dynamic Structure of Everyday Life
MASSACHUSETTS INST OF TECH CAMBRIDGE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE LAB
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Computational theories of action have generally understood the organized nature of human activity in terms of the construction and execution of computer-program-like structures called plans. By consigning the phenomena of contingency and improvisation to peripheral roles, this view of activity has led to grossly impractical technical proposals. I would like to propose an alternative view of human activity. According to this view, contingency is a central feature of the world of everyday activity and improvisation is the principal means by which people get along in the world. Starting from these premises, I offer a computational model of certain aspects of everyday routine activity. This model is based on two ideas, a way of organizing improvised activity called running arguments and an account of representation for situated agents called deictic representation. Deictic representation means individuating things in the world not objectively independently of the agents location or heading or projects or attitudes but rather indexically in terms of their relation to the agent and functionally in terms of the role they play in the agents ongoing projects. Deictic representation does not involve a notion of objective identity, but then objective identity is rarely a help, usually a hindrance, and always much too great an epistemic problem to make into a central representational category. A computer program called Pengi illustrates the use of deictic representation.