Monash University
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Philosophical foundations for information fusion : towards a social-process paradigm

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posted on 2017-01-31, 05:19 authored by Dawson, Andrew Samuel
In the past decade the focus of research into artificial intelligence (AI) has moved from individual agents to multi-agent systems (MAS). This shift has been reflected in the increasing use of social metaphors to describe MAS-related design problems and solutions. The social interpretation of MAS has also been embraced by social scientists interested in developing MAS-based simulations of society. The design of some MAS applications, such as high-level information fusion, involves additional social complexities that arise from their embedded role in complex human social organizations. One response to these developments has been the plea for ‘socionic’ collaboration between computer scientists and sociologists akin to the inter-disciplinary collaboration that produced bionics. This suggestion has produced some useful results; however the socionic traffic of ideas has been hindered by the paradigm gulf that separates sociology and computer science. Dawson’s work is a step toward bridging the philosophical component of that gulf. Dawson’s goal is to develop a coherent system of concepts that encompasses both MAS-based and human forms of social interaction and will serve to frame and guide the development of ontology based multi-agent systems. To create this unifying vision Dawson draws upon the philosophy of A. N. Whitehead to develop a socially oriented, Whiteheadian philosophical interpretation of Dale Lambert’s Post-Classical MAS. While Whitehead’s work is relatively well known, Lambert’s unique process philosophy inspired approach to AI has attracted little attention. Drawing upon Lambert’s unpublished doctoral dissertation, "Engineering Machines with Commonsense" (1996), Dawson lays out the broad epistemic issues, metaphysical presuppositions, and heuristic strategies that have motivated Lambert’s turn from Classical AI to his process inspired alternative: ‘Post-Classical AI’. Lambert’s primary objective in his dissertation was to develop a Post-Classical blue-print for a MAS-based mind. To that end Lambert developed Post-Classical philosophies of process, representation and belief, and showed how each of these elements could be formally implemented to provide a Post-Classical artificial mind with its cognitive capability. In order to reveal the deeper implications of Lambert’s tersely expressed debt to process philosophy, Dawson provides a commentary which explains the key formal elements of Lambert’s work in terms of Whitehead’s metaphysical system. Through this interpretation it is possible to view the computational operations of Lambert’s MAS as a partial model of the complex creative processes that lie at the heart of Whitehead’s metaphysical vision. This interpretation of Lambert's Post-Classical paradigm signals the possibility of a novel 'Whiteheadian AI'. A key aspect of Dawson’s analysis is his identification of the ‘sociological turn’ latent in Lambert’s Post-Classical paradigm. Lambert’s approach to grounding agent belief is analogous in form to Whitehead’s explanation of the relationship between human ideas and the actualities that they denote. In both cases agents shape and are shaped by social processes that selectively fine tune and prioritize the social customs that mediate interaction between agents and their environments. The sociological dimension of Lambert’s Post-Classical paradigm is further illustrated with reference to the ontology-based multi-agent architecture at the core of Lambert’s design of a high-level information fusion system. For nearly two decades a process vision has inspired and guided Lambert’s internationally recognized contribution to the development of high-level information fusion systems. Interpreted in the light of Whitehead’s philosophy, the striking originality of Lambert’s Post-Classical paradigm and subsequent work in information fusion is revealed. Dawson concludes that Lambert’s Post-Classical paradigm represents a promising nexus of philosophical vision, formal method, and practical technology and outlines his own socionic proposal for its further development.


Principal supervisor

Peter Murphy

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Humanities, Communications and Social Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts