GOFAI, or Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence

Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence, or GOFAI, is a term coined by John Haugeland in his book Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea (1985).  

GOFAI rests on the idea that cognition can be understood in computational terms: a mechanical process which is calculable or determinable.

The idea of thinking as computing goes all the way back to Thomas Hobbes, who in the 1650s proclaimed, “By ratiocination, I mean computation.”

This slogan, Haugeland writes, conveys two main ideas:

1. Thinking is “mental discourse.”

For Hobbes, reasoning was analogous to solving an equation with pen and paper.

When solving a mathematical equation, we manipulate symbols (tokens) to get to the solution; the pen and paper serve as aid to that computation.

Hobbes argued that the mind relies on a similar set of brain tokens, the internal computation of which expresses thoughts.

2. Thinking is methodical.

For Hobbes, the mind is a sort of mental abacus; and the operation of this mental abacus is what we call “reasoning.”

In the book titled Mind and Machine, author Joel Walmsley states that GOFAI has roots in linguistics, psychology, and philosophy.

All three intellectual pathways—from linguistics to psychology, from functionalism to ‘representational theory of the mind,’ and from logic to computation—lead to the idea of cognition as computational.

Put simply, the line of thought is as follows:

P1: Thinking is logical reasoning.

P2: Computers are machines for logical reasoning.

P3: If thinking is logical reasoning and computers are machines for logical reasoning, then “thinking” is a process that may be produced mechanically.

Conclusion: Thinking is a process that can be produced mechanically.


P1: “Thought” is “logic.”

P2: “Logic” can be done by machines.

P3: If “thought” is “logic” and “logic” can be done by machines, then “thought” can be done by machines.

Conclusion: “Thought” can be done by machines.

Note: “If thought is logic, then machines can think” may be an oversimplification, as it is not clear whether what we term as “thinking” or “reasoning” is the same as thought-processing.

GOFAI, also known as symbolic AI and the classical approach, dominated the field from the 1950s to the late 1980s.

The symbolic approach lost popularity because researchers in GOFAI sought to tackle the “strong AI problem”; but on the difference between so-called “strong” and “weak” AI, join us for another post.

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