Cognitive deficiency tests, AI, and self-driving cars.
Seems like the news recently has been filled with revelations about the taking of cognitive deficiency tests.
This is especially being widely noted by some prominent politicians that appear to be attempting to vouch for having mental clarity upon reaching an age in life whereby cognitive decline often surfaces.
Such tests are more aptly referred to as cognitive assessment tests rather than deficiency oriented tests, though the notion generally being that if a score earned is less than what might be expected, the potential conclusion is that the person has had a decline in their mental prowess.
Oftentimes also referred to as cognitive impairment detection exams, the person seeking to find out how they are mentally doing is administered a test consisting of various questions and asked to answer the questions. The administrator of the test then grades the answers as to correctness and fluidity, producing a score to indicate how the person overall performed.
The score is then compared to the scores of others that have taken the test, trying to gauge how the cognitive capacity of the person is rated or ranked in light of some larger population of test-takers.
Also, if a person takes the test over time, perhaps say once per year, their prior scores are compared to their most recent score, attempting to measure whether there is a difference emerging as they age.
There are some crucial rules-of-thumb about all of this cognitive test-taking.
For example, if the person takes the same test word-for-word, repeatedly over time, this raises questions about the nature of the test versus the nature of the cognitive abilities of the person taking the test. In essence, you can potentially do better on the test simply because youve seen the same questions before and likely also had been previously told what the considered correct answers are.
One argument to be made is that this is somewhat assessing your ability to remember having previously taken the test, but thats not usually the spirit of what such cognitive tests are supposed to be about. The idea is to assess overall cognition, and not merely be focused on whether you perchance can recall the specific questions of a specific test previously taken.
Another facet of this kind of cognitive test-taking consists of being formally administered the test, rather than taking the test entirely on your own.
Though there are plenty of available cognitive tests that you can download and take in private, some would say that this is not at all the same as taking a test under the guiding hands and watch of someone certified or otherwise authorized to administer such tests.
A key basis for claiming that the test needs to be formally administered is to ensure that the person taking the test is not undermining the test or flouting the testing process. If the test taker were to ask a friend for help, this obviously defeats the purpose of the test, which is supposed to focus on your solitary cognition and not be a collective semblance of cognition. Likewise, these tests are usually timed, and a person on their own might be tempted to exceed the normally allotted time, plus the person might be tempted to look-up answers, use a calculator, etc.
Perhaps the most important reason to have a duly authorized and trained administrator involves attempting to holistically evaluate the results of the cognition test.
Experts in cognitive test-taking are quick to emphasize that a robust approach to the matter consists of not just the numeric score that a test taker achieves, but also how they are overall able to interact with a fully qualified and trained cognitive-test administrator.
Unlike taking a secured SAT or ACT test that you might have had to painstakingly sit through for college entrance purposes, a cognitive assessment test is typically intended to assess in both a written way and in a broader manner how the person interacts and cognitively presents themselves.
Imagine for example that someone aces the written test, yet meanwhile, they are unable to carry on a lucid conversation with the administrator, and similarly, they mentally stumble on why they are taking the test or otherwise have apparent cognitive difficulties surrounding the test-taking process. Those facets outside of the test itself should be counted, some would vehemently assert, and thus would be unlikely to be valued if a person merely took the test on their own.
Despite all of the foregoing and the holistic nuances that Ive mentioned, admittedly, most of the time all that people want to know is what was their darned score on that vexing cognitive test.
You might be wondering whether there is one standardized and universal cognitive test that is used for these purposes.
No, there is not just one per se.
Instead, there are a bewildering and veritable plethora of such cognition tests.
It seems like each day there is some new version that gets announced to the world. In some cases, the cognitive test being proffered has been carefully prepared and analyzed for its validity. Unfortunately, in other cases, the cognitive test is a gimmick and being fronted as a moneymaker, whereby those pushing the test are aiming to get people to believe in it and hoping to generate gobs of revenue by how many take the test and charge them fees accordingly.
Please do not fall for the fly-by-night cognitive tests.
Sadly, sometimes a known celebrity or other highly visible person gets associated with a cognitive test promotion and adds a veneer of authenticity to something that does not deserve any bona fide reputational stamp-of-approval.
Some cognitive tests have lasted the test of time and are considered the dominant or at least well-regarded for their cognitive assessing capacity and validity.
On a related note, if a cognitive test takes a long time to complete, lets say hours of completion time, the odds are that it is not going to be overall well-received and considered onerous for testing purposes. As such, the popular cognitive tests tend to be the ones that take a relatively short period to undertake, such as an hour or less, and in many cases even just 15 minutes or less (these are usually depicted as screening tests rather than full-blown cognitive assessment tests).
Some decry that only requiring a few minutes to take a cognitive test is rife with problems and seems like a fast-food kind of approach to tackling a very complex topic of measuring someones cognition. Those in this camp shudder when these quickie tests are used by people that then go around touting how well they scored.
The counter-argument is that these short-version cognitive tests are reasonable and amount to using a dipstick to gauge how much gasoline there is in the tank of your car. The viewpoint is that it only takes a little bit of measurement to generally know how someone is mentally faring. Once an overall gauge is taken, you can always do a follow-up with a more in-depth cognitive test.
Given all of the preceding discussion, it might be handy to briefly take a look at a well-known cognitive test that has been around since the mid-1990s and continues to actively be in use today, including having been the test that reportedly President Trump took in 2018 (according to news reports).
The Famous MoCA Cognitive Test
That test is the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) test.
Some mistakenly get confused by the name of the test and think that it is maybe just a test for Canadians since it refers to Montreal in the naming, but the test is globally utilized and was named for being initially developed by researchers in Montreal, Quebec.
Generally, the MoCA is one-page in size (see example here), which is handily succinct for doing this kind of testing, and the person taking the test is given 10 minutes to answer the questions. There is some leeway often allowed in the testing time allotted, and also some latitude related to having the person first become oriented to the test and its instructions.
Nonetheless, the person taking the test should not be provided say double the time or anything of that magnitude. The reason why the test should be taken in a prescribed amount of time is that the aspect of time is considered related to cognitive acuity.
In other words, if the person is given more time than others have previously gotten, presumably they can cognitively devote more mental cycles or effort and might do better on the test accordingly.
A timed test is not just about your cognition per se, but also about how fast you think and whether your thinking processes are as fluid as others that have taken the test.
If it took someone an hour and they got a top score, while someone else got a top score in ten minutes, we would be hard-pressed to compare their results. You might liken this to playing timed chess, whereby the longer you have, the more chess moves you can potentially mentally foresee, which is fine in some circumstances, but when trying to make for a balanced playing field, you put a timer on how long each player has to make their move.
That being said, the time allotted for a given test should not be so short as to shortchange the cognitive opportunities, which would once again presumably hamper the measurement of cognition. A chess player that has to say just two seconds to make a move will likely randomly take a shot rather than try to devote mental energy to the task.
In theory, the amount of time provided should be the classic Goldilocks amount, just enough time to allow for a sufficient dollop of mental effort, and not so much time that it inadvertently extends the cognition and perhaps enables a lesser cognitive capacity to use time as a crutch to imbue itself (assuming thats not what the test is attempting to measure).
I am about to explain specific details of the MoCA cognitive test, so if you want to someday take the test, please know that I am about to spoil your freshness (this is a spoiler alert).
The test attempts to cover a lot of cognitive ground, doing so by providing a variety of cognition tasks, including the use of numbers, the use of words, the use of sentences, the use of the alphabet, the use of visual cognitive capabilities such as interpreting images and composing writing, and so on.
Thats worth mentioning because a cognitive test that only covered say counting and involved the addition of numbers would be solely focused on your arithmetic cognition. We know that humans have a fuller range of cognitive abilities. As such, a well-balanced cognitive test tries to hit upon a slew of what are considered cognitive dimensions.
Notably, this can be hard to pack into one short test, and raises some criticisms by those that argue it is dubious to have someone undertake a single question on numbers and a single question on words, and so on, and then attempt to generalize overall about their cognition within each respective entire dimension of cognitive facets.
Lets try out a numbers and arithmetic related question.
Are you ready?
You are to start counting from 100 down to 0 and do so by subtracting 7 each time rather than by one.
Okay, your first answer should be 93, and then your next would be 86, and then 79, and so on.
You cannot use a pencil and paper, nor can you use a calculator. This is supposed to be off the top of your head. Using your fingers or toes is also considered taboo.
How did you do?
Try this next one.
Remember these words: Face, Velvet, Church, Daisy, Red.
I want you to look away from these words and say them aloud, without reading them from the page.
In about five minutes, without looking at the page to refresh your memory, try to once again speak aloud what the words were.
What do those cognitive tests signify?
The counting backward is usually a tough one for most people as they do not normally count in that direction. This forces your mind to slow down and think directly about the numbers and the doing of arithmetics in your head (this is also partially why the same kind of quiz is used for DUI roadway sobriety assessment). If I had asked you to count by sevens starting at zero and counting upward, you would likely do so with much greater ease, and the effort would be less cognitively taxing on you.
For the word memorization, this is an assessment of your short-term memory capacity. It is only five words versus if I had asked you to remember ten words or fifty words. Some people will try to memorize the five words by imagining an image in their minds of each word, while others might string together the words into making a short story that will allow them to recall the words.
Either way, this is an attempt to exercise your cognition around several facets, involving short-term memory, the ability to follow and abide by instructions, a semblance of encoding words in your mind, and has other mental leveraging cerebral components.
Some of the questions on these cognitive tests are considered controversial.
In the case of MoCA, there is typically a clock drawing task that some cognitive test experts have heartburn about.
You are asked to draw a clock and indicate the time on the clock as being a stated time such as perhaps 10 minutes past 7. In theory, you would draw a circle or something similar, you would write the numbers of 1 to 12 around the oval to represent each hour, and you would then sketch a short line pointing from the center toward the 7, and a longer mark pointing from the center to the 2 position (since the marks for minutes are normally representative of five minutes each).
Why is this controversial as a cognitive test question?
One concern is that in todays world, we tend to use digital clocks that display numerically the time and are less likely to use the conventional circular-shaped clock to represent time anymore.
If a person taking the cognitive test is unfamiliar with oval clocks, does it seem appropriate that they would lose several cognition points for poorly accomplishing this task?
This brings up a larger scope qualm about cognitive tests, namely, how can we separate knowledge versus the act of cognition.
I might not know what a conventional clock is and yet have superb cognitive skills. The test is unfairly ascribing knowledge of something in particular to the act of cognition, and so it is falsely measuring one thing that is not necessarily the facet that is being presumably assessed.
Suppose I asked you a question about baseball, such as please go ahead and name the bases or what the various player positions are called. If perchance you know about baseball, you can answer the question, while otherwise, you are going to fail that question.
Do the baseball question and your corresponding answer offer any reasonable semblance of your cognitive capabilities?
In any case, the MoCa cognitive test is usually scored based on a top score of 30, for which the scale typically used is this:
Score 26-30: No cognitive impairment detected
Score 18-25: Mild cognitive impairment
Score 10-17: Moderate cognitive impairment
Score00-09: Severe cognitive impairment
Research studies tend to indicate that people with demonstrative Alzheimers tend to score around 16, ending up in the moderate cognitive impairment category. Presumably, a person with no noticeable cognitive impairment, at least per this specific cognitive test, would score at 26 or higher.
Is it possible to achieve a score in the top tier, the score of 26 or above (suggesting that one does not possess any cognitive impairment), and yet still nonetheless have some form of cognitive deficiency?
Yes, certainly so, since this kind of cognitive test is merely a tiny snapshot or sliver and does not cover an entire battery or gamut of cognition, plus as mentioned earlier there is the possibility of being a priori familiar with the test and/or actively prepare beforehand for the test which can substantively boost performance.
Is it possible to score in the mild, moderate, or severe categories of cognitive impairment and somehow not truly be suffering from cognitive impairment?
Yes, certainly so, since a person might be overly stressed and anxious in taking the test, thus perform poorly due to the situation at hand, or could find the given set of tasks unrelated to their cognition prowess such as perhaps someone that is otherwise ingeniously inventive and cognitively sharp, but find themselves mentally cowed when doing simple arithmetic or memorizing seemingly nonsense words.
All told, it is best to be cautious in interpreting the results of such cognitive tests (and, once again, reinforces the need for a more holistic approach to cognitive assessments).
AI And Cognitive Tests
Another popular topic in the news and one that is seemingly unrelated to this cognitive testing matter is the emergence of AI (hold that thought, for a moment, well get back to it).
You are likely numbed by the multitude of AI systems that seem to keep being developed and released into and affecting our everyday lives, including the rise of facial recognition, the advent of Natural Language Processing (NLP) in the case of AI systems such as Alexa and Siri, etc.
On top of that drumbeat, there are the touted wonders of AI, entailing a lot of (rather wild) speculation about where AI is headed and whether AI will eclipse human intelligence, possibly even deciding to take over our planet and choosing to enslave or wipe out humanity (for such theories, see my analysis at this link here).
Why bring up AI, especially if it presumably has nothing to do with cognitive tests and cognitive testing?
Well, for the simple fact that AI does have to do with cognitive testing, very much so.
The presumed goal for AI is to achieve the equivalent of human intelligence, as might somehow be embodied in a machine. We do not yet know what the machine will be, though likely to consist of computers, but the specification does not dictate what it must be, and thus if you could construct a machine via Legos and duct tape that exhibited human intelligence, more power to you.
In brief, we want to craft artificial cognitive capabilities, which are the presumed crux of human intelligence.
Logically, since thats what we are attempting to accomplish, it stands to reason that we would expect AI to be able to readily pass a human-focused cognitive test since doing so would illustrate that the AI has arrived at similar cognitive capacities.
I dont want to burst anyones bubble, but there is no AI today that can do any proper semblance of common-sense reasoning, and we are a long way away from having sentient AI.
Bottom-line: AI today would essentially flunk the MoCA cognitive test and any others of similar complexity too.
Some might try to argue and claim that AI and computers can countdown from 100, and can memorize words, and do the other stated tasks, but this is a misleading assertion. Those are tasks undertaken by an AI system that has been constructed for and contrived to perform those specific tasks, and inarguably is a far cry from understanding or comprehending the test in a manner akin to human capacities and misleadingly anthropomorphize the matter (for more details, see my analysis at this link here).
There is not yet any kind of truly generalizable AI, which some are now calling Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
As added clarification, there is a famous test in the AI field known as the Turing Test (see my explanation at this link here). No AI of today and nor in the foreseeable near future could pass a fully ranging Turing Test, and in some respects, being able to pass a cognitive test like those of MoCA is a variant of a Turing Test (in an extremely narrow way).
AI Cognition And Self-Driving Cars
Another related topic entails the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars.
We are heading toward the use of self-driving cars that involve AI autonomously driving the vehicle, doing so without any human driver at the wheel.
Some wonder whether the AI of today, lacking any kind of common-sense reasoning and nor any inkling of sentience, will be sufficient for driving cars on our public roadways. Critics argue that we are going to have AI substituting for human drivers and yet the AI is insufficiently robust to do so (see more on this contention at my analysis here).
Others insist that the driving task does not require the full range of human cognitive capabilities and thus the AI will do just fine in commanding self-driving cars.
Do you believe that the AI driving you to the grocery store needs to be able to first pass a cognitive test and showcase that it can adequately draw a clock and indicate the time of day?
For now, all we can say is that time will tell.
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