I was going to call this geek rules vs human rules but I thought that was too unkind. Geeks are human, not machines, the only problem is that sometimes people try to think like machines when they don't need to.

We were playing a game in the chatterbox earlier today and it got me thinking about rules. The game was where one person knew the rule and someone else had to guess it. (The exact rule isn't important and I don't want to spoil the fun so I shan't say it.) The person who knew would say "X but not Y" and that meant X followed the rule and Y didn't.

Okay, the part that surprised me was when someone guessed the rule was "the first word has blahdy-blah...". Actually they got it right, apart from the "first word" bit. Yes, if you say "X but not Y" then X is the first word.

But the thing is we weren't just saying this, we were saying all sorts of things like "It's X rather than Y" and "not Y but X". Obviously this is logically the same... unless you're a machine.

This is what set me thinking. A machine or a computer program finds it very hard to pick out the essential bits, the X and Y out of all the differing arrangements and grammar and ifs and buts, but we have no problem. We don't follow a simple rule that says "look at the first word" or "count all the letters then look at the longest word". We just know, evolution has made it important that we can know, which bit sticks out as the heart of the matter. What "X" and "Y" are. How do you tell a program that?

I don't program, I've done a bit in Basic, but my brother does a lot, and I've had arguments with him about how it must be easy to do such-and-such, and he says no, it's too hard to program. I don't think I'm arguing for AI, just a bit of human-like hunting around for salient properties by flexible criteria. Yet it seems to be too difficult to do. Yet we all do it. We know we don't have to look at the first word. How do we do this?

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