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metacognition

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Metacognition is the ability to reflect on one’s own cognitive processes. The prefix meta means self-referential. For example, metadata is data about data. Similarly, metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking.

Elements of metacognition include:

Self-awareness: The ability to examine one’s own mental states and processes and relate them to behaviors.

Critical thinking: The capacity to be objective and to understand and correct for our own and others’ cognitive biases.

Perspective: The ability to understand that individuals view situations from different viewpoints and that one’s own perspective is not necessarily more valid than others. That capacity can help people question their own views and potentially adopt more informed ones.

Self-regulation: The capacity to monitor, observe and understand one’s own mental patterns and apply remedial methods to improve them and deal with problematic cognitive issues.

In artificial intelligence, metacognition is one component of artificial general intelligence (AGI) or strong AI, which replicates human intelligence in software. AGI has not yet been demonstrated -- and may never be -- but reinforcement learning is one step towards its development.

Principles of metacognition are applied to help artificial systems to adapt learning from prior experiences to solve unfamiliar problems in the same way that a human might. Approximating human self-awareness for problem solving in AI systems has traditionally been based on prediction errors, failures of expected outcomes. Exploring and analyzing patterns among prediction errors can help both humans and AI improve the accuracy of future predictions.

The capacity for self-examination would make it possible for an AI system to learn more quickly and make more connections among even loosely-related concepts so that applications of knowledge could grow exponentially. Metacognitive functions in AI systems might also enable the development of other desirable capacities, such as the ethical reasoning required to ensure that they act in accordance with established moral guidelines. 

This was last updated in November 2018

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