I have to write a critic to this paper:

"Intention Is Choice with Commitment" by Philip R. Cohen and Hector J. Levesque

There is this one passage I definitively do not understand, right at the beginning:

Some time in the not-so-distant future, you are having trouble with your new household robot. You say "Willie, bring me a beer." The robot replies "OK, boss." Twenty minutes later, you screech "Willie, why didn't you bring that beer?" It answers "Well, I intended to get you the beer, but I decided to do something else." Miffed, you send the wise guy back to the manufacturer, complaining about a lack of commitment. After retrofitting, Willie is returned, marked "Model C: The Committed Assistant." Again, you ask Willie to bring a beer. Again, it accedes, replying "Sure thing." Then you ask: "What kind did you buy?" It answers: "Genessee." You say "Never mind." One minute later, Willie trundles over with a Genessee in its gripper. This time, you angrily return Willie for overcommitment.

The problem is, that I do not understand why Cohen and Levesque speak of overcommitment. Genesee is an existing beer-brand (I googled it), and the rest seems clear to me: A man tells his robot to bring him a beer, and the robot does that.

Why is this overcommitment? I think I miss out on something important here.


1 Answer 1


The passage seems to be emphasizing the two parts of intention, as the title indicates - choice and commitment. In the first part of the passage the robot has little commitment to buy the beer and lots of choice and so does not get the beer. After Willie is returned for a committed model, the man asks the robot to buy the beer. This time the robot is committed to buying the beer but has little choice so buys a cheap beer. And, beyond that is so committed to getting the man a beer that he gives him one even after the man dismisses his request.

  • I agree with this analysis. In addition, it seems like the parable must be pointing out the difficulty in balancing choice and commitment algorithmically. Jul 14, 2011 at 16:42
  • Thank you! That was the point I was missing. I couldn't know that genesee is "some cheap beer" and then I didn't realize that with the phrase "Never Mind" the person didn't want the beer anymore.
    – Edgar
    Jul 15, 2011 at 6:32
  • : ) Amd maybe not even cheaper, it may just be the most popular beer. Perhaps the second robot checked for the most available beer in the region, a map search program. Whatever type will get the beer, for he is commited. Perhaps the other robot saw only Genesee at the first place he went and knew the human would reject it. Is the person intending to drink? He doesn't seem over-commited to drinking. Jul 15, 2011 at 23:24

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