So Let it be Written, So Let it be Done!

April 14, 2008

Context is Everything

Filed under: kamakula — kamakula @ 1:05 pm
Tags: , ,

For a while, the term “scamming on a squirrel” has come up in conversation with some of my friends. Since I’ve always been good at context clue exercises, I was able to figure out the meaning without knowing the reference and could continue the conversation. However, this past weekend, when they made other references that could not be puzzled out, they finally told me where it was from: An online series called We Need Girlfriends that has actually been bought by CBS. I’ve supposed to have been finishing up my DSP project (sorta due today) but instead have spent the last 2.5 hours watching the first nine episodes.

So, I left the room/office where I have desk space to goto the library (because the room doesn’t have an AC outlet and my laptop battery died [coincidentally, this is why I stopped at episode 9]) and I my train of thought continued along the show, friends I’m going to have watch it, and stuff in my life and I realized that context is very important.

In almost all elementary, middle, and high school english courses with the exception of senior english (which focuses exclusively on literature and analysis, rather than grammar and vocabulary), one of the major skills we hone is that of using context clues to infer meanings or determine the appropriate word to complete a sentence.

However, context is important to almost all interactions in life. We use it to tell when someone is being serious or sarcastic and plan our reactions accordingly. However, there are times when those skills fail us. I’m starting to realize that this occurs when I use incorrect assumptions to inform my view of the context of a conversation or interaction. This generally occurs due to a snowball effect.

There is something I want to happen and I color my view of what’s going on through the subject lens of my desires, and not necessarily the objective one of reality. And while realizing this and giving more conscious thought to it will be useful, particularly in interactions and relationships with the opposite sex, as soon as I wrote the title for this post, I realized that context is also very important for robotics and artificial intelligence.

There are many big problems in robotics/AI that are awaiting solutions. For example, there is a computer vision problem of training a robot (or computer) to identify human beings in any given picture. Or really anything. One recent example I saw was a picture of a rabbit in a front yard or something. Now, I knew from the caption or whatever I read that there was a rabbit there, however, when I first looked, I didn’t see it.

Similar things happen to us all the time. The phrase “it was in the last place I looked”, aside from being extremely redundant (how many times do you continue looking after you’ve found something?), also highlights this. Whenever I’m looking for something, I check where I expect to see it. I have an idea of what should be in what place. In other words, I form the context of the environment in which my thing resides, then start looking. Show me a forest picture and ask me to identify animals, I may quickly point out the rabbits. Show me one of someone’s messy bedroom and ask me to identify animals, I may miss the brown colored rabbit because it looks like a dirty shirt. Well, not really, but I expect to see a dirty shirt, so my mind glosses over the fact that it’s actually a rabbit.

I’m going to start looking for papers that look at applying context to computer vision, pattern recognition, or reasoning problems in robotics. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I’d like to work on (though I may still need to tailor it to fit into the overall work being done by whoever becomes my research adviser), but every once in a while, I get ideas like this and it’s pretty exciting because I always feel inadequate as a researcher, like I have a really hard time coming up with innovative or original ideas, but maybe it’s something that happens to everyone. . .

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