The Frame Problem = The Underestimation of What It Means to Be Human

I am currently reading a very interesting course in the philosophy of artificial intelligence. This week I got introduced to The Frame Problem of AI, and I thoroughly enjoyed this reading so I thought I’d share my post on the assignment with you.

According to Dennett, the frame problem is an epistemological problem rather than a computational problem. Why is this? Epistemology concerns the theory of knowledge, what is knowledge, how do we obtain and validate it? If we are to transfer knowledge to a robot we have to be able to answer the philosophical questions related to knowledge. How do human beings come to know and act in a common-sensical way? I think Dennett shows clearly that this is a very hard (if not impossible) question to answer and, therefore, equally hard or impossible to implement in a robot.

Firstly, we are biological beings, we are born knowing things about the world without ever having to be (explicitly) taught (e.g. that a smile shows friendliness). We are no tabula rasa like robots where you have to program everything in order for it to act intelligently (even that it has to smile to look friendly). But we also learn from experience and from connecting that experience with other experiences. Although sometimes, we can connect two completely unrelated experiences and learn from that to solve problems. How can this complex learning process ever be “taught” to robots? One way of doing this is through introspection, or to use the words of Dennett “an examination of what is presented or given to consciousness” [1, p. 186]. But, as Dennett writes, introspection has limitations. We cannot observe or explain everything we do. “For some time now we have known better, we have conscious access to only upper surface, as it were, of the multilevel system of information-processing that occurs in us” [1, p. 187]. Even when we seem to be deliberately thinking about how to solve a difficult task, we cannot explain all the details on how we solved these problems. Also, even if we try to plan the problem-solving process to the most meticulous detail we still may encounter other unpredictable or “surprise” problems. Human beings are flexible enough to deal with these problems but how can we ever program into a machine to deal with these problems if we, the people who build them, are not even aware or prepared for the problems in the first place.

Secondly, the real world is full of noise, but thankfully our brains are experts at filtering this information so that we are not overloaded. Human beings are very good at noticing the most important things that we need to notice and to ignore a bunch of things that are not relevant. The question of what is relevant information depends, of course, on what we plan to do, the context etc. How do you prepare a machine for every single situation that it might encounter? In addition to this, how do we prepare the machine for an ever-changing world? This relates to qualification problem, and this is a very important part of the frame problem according to Dennett.

Thirdly, according to Dennett, another aspect of the frame problem is the problem of induction. “The problem of having good expectations about any future events, whether they are one’s own actions, the actions of another agent, or mere happenings of nature” [1, p. 194]. How do we answer the general question: “given that I believe all this (have all this evidence), what ought I to believe as well (about the future or about unexamined parts of the world)?” (ibid.) You need a vast amount of knowledge and experience to answer this question (symbolic problem). And if you are a robot, this information has to be store and readily accessible (syntactic problem) Can we ever give a robot enough experience for it to answer this question intelligently? Even if a robot can answer this question, the question is still how it can represent this knowledge effectively?

Lastly, I think it is important to keep in mind that human beings make mistakes so we should expect nothing less of a robot. But what kinds of mistakes can we tolerate, that is the question, because when it comes to the question of responsibility – who should take the blame? The machine with a “mind” or the programmer. This is also my first question. Another question that I have is related to the concept of cognitive wheel. Even though we might be able to mimic the cognitive subcomponents in the brain, we are still not one step closer to understanding how human common-sense making is accomplished. My question is: why does this matter? Why should we aim to understand human sense-making with the help of robots? If we stop aiming to create common-sense making human beings out of robots then we can also ignore this question, and just enjoy the benefits of robots being the square machine that it is.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the obsession with making robots like “human” and “excessively smart”. This surely must be a gendered question because, evidently, the field of AI has, and is, dominated by the male gender. I am convinced that this gendered aspect has affected everything related to computing and AI. I guess you could say that AI is men’s attempt to defeat women in the only one thing that a female person can do that a man can’t, namely to create life.


[1]       D. Dennett, “Cognitive Wheels: The Frame Problem of AI,” in Minds, Machines and Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 1984.

“I do research in computing education, not in computer science”

This weekend I’ve participated in the doctoral consortium (DC) arranged by ITiCSE (a conference on innovation and technology in computer science education). This was the first time for me at ITiCSE, and just like most conferences nowadays, it was all online over zoom. I did have quite high expectations for the DC and was a bit disappointed that we did not have time to discuss our research projects more. There was also no time to discuss any questions or thoughts that we had pertaining our research projects. We were limited to 10 minutes presentation and 5 minutes discussion, which is according to me, way to little to get any constructive feedback. Although I am grateful for the feedback that I got from the organisers in an email afterwards.

With this post I want to bring up one essential thing that I take with me from the DC. One of the workshops that we had at the DC was about the importance of educational theory. Andreas Mühling (one of organisers) was responsible for this workshop and he emphasised that the difference between computer science education and computer science is the use of educational theory to understand what goes on in the CS classroom. This is something I’ve known “unconsciously” but to hear Andreas say this out loud really made an impact on me. Sometimes I’ve felt that I focus too much on theories and that it might be hard for me to reach teachers in CS(E) if what I write gets too abstract and difficult. I guess it is easy to feel like you focus too much on theory being an educational researcher in computer science, but thanks to Andreas workshop I know that I am doing the “right” thing. However, it is tricky to write in a way that resonates with everyone. Still, theory is important. But I am sure now that focusing on educational theory (and theory in general) is what makes all the difference when it comes to identifying myself as a CS education researcher, and that difference makes me feel like I belong in this field after all.

Last but not least, my 2-page DC paper is accessible here:

Presentation Skills

Almost three weeks ago I participated in a webbminar on presentation skills arranged by Forskar Grand Prix (#forskargrandprix). Forskar Grand Prix is a competition where researchers are invited to present their research in a short, simple, and accessible way. The time limit to present your research is 4 minutes.

This is what I took with me from the very interesting webbminar by Anders Sahlman:

  1. Don’t try to squeeze every detail about your research in the 4 minutes time-slot that is allocated to you. Pick, with care, the most relevant, important, interesting aspects of your research. Remember “the big idea” – what is it that you want the audience to remember once you’ve finished talking? Maybe you want to show that the world is a better place than it was 50 years ago? Or that artificial intelligence is not that “clever” and has human biases?
  2. Talk about your passion: what is it that makes you wake up each morning to do your research?
  3. Who will you be presenting for? If the audience is the general public then it is a good idea to imagine that your audience consists of 17 year old high school students. What does a 17 year old student know? If you make sure your presentation can be understandable by 17 year old students, you are pretty likely to make a presentation that is accessible for the majority of the audience.
  4. Another idea is to frame your presentation in terms of purpose. What is the purpose of your research? What is good for the audience to know?
  5. Yet another twist is to think about what your results will look like in a perfect world? What new knowledge do you contribute to the world that was not there before you conduct your research?
  6. “Capture the people’s heart, not their mind”. Storytelling is perfect for this. Start with the problem at hand: what is at stake? Why is it so important that the problem is solved? What are the risks? How does your research contribute to solving the problem?
  7. Ask yourself: Who/What is affected by your research?
  8. Avoid focusing on methodology, and avoid using jargons when presenting for the general public.
  9. Write a script! Know it verbatim, but write the way you talk! Practice! Ask friends/family/colleague to listen to your presentation and ask them to retell what they remember from your presentation.
  10. Last but not least: don’t forget to time yourself to make sure that you stay within the time limit!

In October I will have my half-time seminar, which I really look forward to! I will definitely think about these presentation techniques when presenting my work. Maria Berge from Umeå University will be my opponent, although perhaps a better word is: half-time advisor, since the focus of the seminar is to help me push my work forward.

Luck or Skills? Probably both…

I almost finished reading Katrine Marcal’s book “Att uppfinna världen: hur historiens största feltänk satte käppar i hjulet” (the English title is: Mother of invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men), and page after page I was amazed by the sharpness of her writing. Essentially, the book is a feminist critique of society’s ideas of what counts as technology, invention, innovation and what among those ideas are perceived as legitimate and valuable. Marcal problematises our preconception of what things are masculine and feminine, and shows how ideas of masculinity and femininity limit us to “access the full spectrum of what it means to be human”. I find this quote very sentimental and powerful. If we are aware that we are limited by norms, imaginations, ideas, and opinions of others, we will be better placed at making informed choices. I think we need to remind ourselves that we are not only a biological gender, we are so much more. We need to ask: Who do we want to be as human beings, irrespective of our biological gender? And what can we do to fight this idea that men and women are essentially different? How can we be more aware of the ways we value typically masculine and feminine ways of being and doing?

Katrine Marcal has a blog, which I have subscribed to. In one of her blog posts she writes that women tend to attribute their success to luck and men tend to attribute their success to their own skills. I find this interesting, and started to reflect on this aspect in my own life. Ever since I started my Ph.D. studies I have been interviewed by other researchers twice about my knowledge/experience as a woman in the field of computer science. One of the questions that I got from both these interviews was how I ended up studying a Ph.D. in computing education. And just like the research shows I attributed my success to luck (the way I see it, being accepted to study a Ph.D. is a success). I was lucky to have had a good supervisor. I was lucky that my supervisor saw something in me, and helped me get good recommendations. I was simply lucky. Never once did it occur to me to say that it was my research skills that got me to where I am today. That it was my research skills that contributed to me being lucky. I know that I would not have gotten here without those skills but why was I so focused on attributing luck to my success? This is a complex question to answer but it matters. As Katrine Marcal writes: “Because if you are putting your success down to “luck” (like many women do) you are also saying that you can’t replicate it. If it was all down to “luck” why would people invest in your next business? Why would they listen to your advice?” 

She also points out that attributing your success ONLY to your own skills is not problem-free either: “there’s also a VERY DARK side of attributing your success to merit (as men tend to do more than women). It means it was all YOU (my emphasis). You “earned” these billions, so why should you pay tax? Why should you give back? Why should you not think that you are invincible and faultless and unable to fail?”

Something to think about, and to be more aware about as we continue our lives.

Gifts in Academia

A few days ago I listened to a seminar on how to “decode” the Swedish labour market. The seminar was for PhD students at Uppsala University. Although I was (almost) born and raised in Sweden I thought it was an interesting topic and wanted to hear what the experts had to say. Unfortunately, I missed the first half of the seminar but I was lucky enough to enter the seminar right before Brian Palmer starts talking about the concept of immaterial gifts. Brian Palmer is “a social anthropologist and public speaker. He wrote a PhD dissertation based on ethnographic research in Sweden “Wolves at the Door: Existential Solidarity in a Globalizing Sweden”.

Palmer explained that there are four types of gifts that are highly valued in the academia.

  1. Taking time to read your colleague’s manuscript and to give constructive feedback.
  2. Sending articles to your colleague that are relevant for their research or that you think they will appreciate. Palmer says he particularly likes receiving paper articles instead of digital articles, preferably with a small note attached to it.
  3. At conferences, introduce your colleague to other people. Help them expand their contact network.
  4. Refer journalists, researchers and other investigators to your colleague’s work, alternatively provide your colleague’s contact details to the investigator. This does not mean that you have to contact different people to promote your colleague’s work, but to think about them if you ever are in a situation where investigators are looking for experts to interview. This could, for example, be that they are looking for experts to include in a panel.

What these gifts have in common is that no money in the world can buy you these gifts, only the goodwill of your colleagues and friends will do. I thought these four gifts make a perfect illustration of how dependent we are of each other to thrive and succeed in the academia. People with a lot of contacts (usually senior researchers) have an incredible amount of power to influence the destiny of newcomers such as PhD students. I think this is an important aspect to keep in mind and to discuss continuously with people around you, particularly your supervisors. Also, we need to reflect on what we do with our position of power. Who we choose to give these gifts to can have an immense impact on that person’s career. I hope that, by thinking about these four ways of interacting with colleagues as gift-giving moments, we can be more generous to each other 🙂 I wonder, is there anything else that is not on the list that you would like to add? Something to think about…

Some thoughts on teaching

For the last two and a half months, I have been busy with teaching duties in three different courses. I have been responsible for workshops in oral (presentation) and written communication (reports). It was the first time that I had to do a lecture in front of the students and it was, of course, a nerve-wracking experience. I am usually quite comfortable talking in front of an audience but this time I was not that familiar with the material I presented. I had been given the slides by my supervisor and so I was not quite sure about what she wanted to communicate with each slide. At the first presentation, I was so nervous that I spoke way too quickly and wrapped up the presentation in less than 20 minutes. Anyway, the rest of the presentations turned out well (for the most part) and now that I am familiar with the material, next year’s lecture will be even better. However, I still need to make the slides “my own” by thoroughly thinking about what it is I want to communicate with the students.

Teaching students is a rewarding activity but also very difficult. I am sure that teaching will get easier with time and experience, this was after all my first time teaching this particular part of the course. It is easy to be hard on oneself when criticisms are brought forward by the students. Then again, how else do you learn?

In all three courses I was teaching we had an online forum where the students could post their questions anonymously if they wanted to. This turned out to be an interesting and quite sad experience. The possibility to post questions anonymously made some of the students rather mean. Somehow they thought that if they did not have to reveal their identity they could write whatever insulting and disrespectful things they want. I find it too bad that the rude atmosphere in the online forum might stop us from using it in the future. You have got to own your words just as much as your actions.

Research Presentation for MINT

I was invited to present my research at a seminar arranged by the Centre for Discipline-Based Education Research (MINT). A few things have changed since I presented my work-in-progress article at the NERA conference. The title is now “Children Participating in Computing Outreach Activities – A Survey Study on Gender Differences”. We decided to focus on the results of the survey instead of focusing on the development of the survey tool itself. Thereby, the change of the title.

We have also decided to send the article to a journal instead of a conference because we believe the paper is good enough to be published as a journal paper.

IMG_MINT.jpgI really enjoy presenting my research at different seminars and conferences. I often get interesting and useful feedback and comments to take with me. I also feel more comfortable talking about my work (and in front of people) the more I get to present it.   

Finally back (kind of)!

I am finally back to work from my parental leave (although only at 40% capacity) and it feels great!

I started off this autumn with a presentation, together with my colleague Anne-Kathrin Peters, on the topic of “Inclusive Computing Education” at KomTeks national conference in Stockholm. Komtek is an organization that arranges CS related activities for children outside of school, as well as provides support for CS teaching for teachers. Komtek had reached out to our research group because they wanted to get more knowledge on how to include a gender perspective in their teaching. During our, almost an hour long presentation, me and Anne talked about the gender gap in computing and presented the social and psychological reasons behind the gap. We also talked about inclusive pedagogical practices, that is, what research tells us works well in a CS classroom. Lastly, I presented my research paper on the experiences of computing instructors with the title: “What Computing Instructors Did Last Summer: Experiences and Lessons Learned” that was accepted to Frontiers in Education last year.

After our presentation we were asked many interesting questions, which led to a vivid discussion. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to address them all but luckily we could continue the talk after our presentation as we were invited to join Komtek for dinner and a virtual reality experience in the center of Stockholm.

On the train back home I felt a surge of happiness to finally be able to contribute to the “real world” with my research and knowledge. This was my first presentation at a non-academic conference and I really enjoyed it.

Koli Calling Doctoral Consortium and International Conference on Computing Education

Last week was a very intense and productive week for me as I attended both the doctoral consortium and Koli Calling conference in Finland. We were ten Ph.D. students at the doctoral consortium who were all, in one way or another, involved in research related to computational thinking (CT). We got to discuss our research projects and deepen our knowledge of CT with an expert in the field, namely Matti Tedre.

The location where the doctoral consortium took place was amazing (see picture below). The cottage where we stayed was in the middle of the forest, right next to a lake, very peaceful. A perfect place for mindful discussions.


From the doctoral consortium, I take home with me a more complex understanding of computational thinking, its challenges and applications. I also take with me home all the interesting research projects that other Ph.D. students are doing. I hope to hear and read about their work in the future, and of course, I hope to meet them again someday. The picture below is from a walk during the doctoral consortium with some of the participtants.23559640_1505967899523417_5552707810247511782_n.jpg

Four years ago was the first time that I attended Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education and I was really excited to attend the conference again this year. However, I was a bit disappointed… The focus of the conference was on programming education, which made me feel a bit “misplaced”, as my research project focuses more on young learners’ identity and interest development in computer science education. The working title of my work is Digital Capital – A Framework for Understanding Young Learners’ Development of Interest in Computer Science and their Potential for Developing Computational Thinking.

A new feature of the conference this year was that the posters from the DC were presented as “guerrilla posters”. This meant that the poster presenters had to do a one-minute elevator pitch between scheduled paper presentations to attract the audience to their posters. To assist the elevator pitch, a PowerPoint slide was displayed simultaneously. My slide contained only one word: “Digital Capital”, as I believe it was more important that the audience listened to me rather than reading the slide (see pic below). I am very pleased with the result 🙂



As for the poster presentation, I found that it was not that easy to get the audience to come and listen to what I had to say. Perhaps this had to do with the mismatch between my research topic and the focus of the conference? Although those who came to listen really did seem interested in my research. Some of the feedback that I got was really useful and inspiring – can’t wait to get to work!


Frontiers in Education and an Academic Visit to Georgia Tech

Frontiers in Education

The 21st of October is a day I will remember. I gave my first academic presentation, as a Ph.D. student, at the Frontiers in Education conference and it went really well – beyond my expectations 🙂 I had been practicing and I felt confident in my ability to do a good presentation. Even though it was the last day of the conference there were still a lot of people that attended my session (STEM Outreach) so I was quite nervous when I saw the number of people. Luckily, the session chair was funny and relaxed, which helped me to relax as well. The time after the presentation is definitely my favorite part, as you get to network, talk and discuss yours as well as the work of other presenters/researchers. I already look forward to (hopefully) attending Frontiers in Education next year.


Academic Visit to Georgia Tech

About a week and a half ago I got the opportunity to visit Mark Guzdial and his Ph.D. students at Georgia Tech, which was a memorable experience. I contacted Mark through one of the senior researchers in UpCERG to see if there were any possibilities for me to come and visit, as I’ve always been interested in seeing how other CSEd groups work and how life as a Ph.D. student in the US is like. Plus, it was a great opportunity for me to network with other Ph.D. students who do similar work.

The visit to Georgia Tech was my first academic visit as a Ph.D. student, as well as my first visit to a university in the US. During the day of my visit, I got to talk about my research project and learn about the projects of Mark’s Ph.D. students. I also got to exchange ideas with both Mark and his Ph.D. students on my research work. I presented my current work on “Digital Capital” (which will be presented as a position paper and a poster at Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education in two weeks), and although I did not get enough time as I would have liked to discuss the concept of Digital Capital, I did get some really good feedback to work on.

I encourage every Ph.D. student to take the opportunity to do an academic visit to another university that has a research group within your field. It is a great learning experience and building collaborations and contacts with researchers outside your department is an important part of being an academic.

Below is a picture of the seminar room at Georgia Tech where I gave my presentation 🙂