On Babies and Bathwater: A Cautionary Tale

  • Patrick J. Hayes
  • Kenneth M. Ford
  • Neil Agnew


One should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, according to an old aphorism. Some popular recent positions in AI thinking have done just this, we suggest, by rejecting the useful idea of mental representations in their overenthusiastic zeal to correct some simplifications and naiveties in the way traditional AI ideas have sometimes been understood. These "situated" perspectives correctly emphasize that agents live in a social world, using their environments to help guide their actions without needing to always plan their futures in detail; but they incorrectly conclude that the very idea of mental representation is mistaken. This perspective has its intellectual roots in parts of recent sociological thinking which reject the entire fabric of western science. We discuss these ideas and disputes in the form of an illustrated fable concerning nannies and babies.