Factored Cognition

Decomposition of reasoning tasks

What is factored cognition?

Factored cognition refers to the idea of breaking down (or factoring) sophisticated learning and reasoning tasks into many small and mostly independent tasks.

We’ll call programs that describe how to break down a task recipes.

Why factored cognition?

We can think about machine learning systems on a spectrum from process-based to outcome-based:

  • Process-based systems are built on human-understandable task decompositions, with direct supervision of reasoning steps.

  • Outcome-based systems are built on end-to-end optimization, with supervision of final results.

Factored cognition is a prerequisite for making the reasoning processes of large language models explicit so that they can be supervised more easily.

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