Extended Goal Recognition: Lessons from Magic


The “science of magic” has lately emerged as a new field of study, providing valuable insights into the nature of human perception and cognition. While most of us think of magic as being all about deception and perceptual “tricks”, the craft—as documented by psychologists and professional magicians—provides a rare practical demonstration and understanding of goal recognition. For the purposes of human-aware planning, goal recognition involves predicting what a human observer is most likely to understand from a sequence of actions. Magicians perform sequences of actions with keen awareness of what an audience will understand from them and—in order to subvert it—the ability to predict precisely what an observer’s expectation is most likely to be. Magicians can do this without needing to know any personal details about their audience and without making any significant modification to their routine from one performance to the next. That is, the actions they perform are reliably interpreted by any human observer in such a way that particular (albeit erroneous) goals are predicted every time. This is achievable because people’s perception, cognition and sense-making are predictably fallible. Moreover, in the context of magic, the principles underlying human fallibility are not only well-articulated but empirically proven. In recent work we demonstrated how aspects of human cognition could be incorporated into a standard model of goal recognition, showing that—even though phenome...

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