Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Laggard Science of Artificial Intelligence Belatedly Discovers Embodiment

Researchers at the Artificial Intelligence Lab of the University of Zurich are challenging the basic underpinnings of artificial cognition research. The implications of their research -- if they are correct -- may shake the AI establishment to its roots.
...the notion of intelligence makes no sense outside of the environment in which it operates.

For them, the notion of embodiment must, of course, capture how the brain is embedded in a body but also how this body is embedded in the broader environment.

Today, Pfeifer and Matej Hoffmann, also at the University of Zurich, set out this thinking in a kind of manifesto for a new approach to AI. And their conclusion has far reaching consequences. They say it's not just artificial intelligence that we need to redefine, but the nature of computing itself. _MIT Technology Review
The researchers of Zurich have stumbled upon the concept of intelligence as having evolved within a complex and dynamic environment. While their ideas are likely to be dismissed by devotees of "algorithmic cognition" and "designed intelligence," these concepts actually appear rather obvious and elementary to anyone with a biological background, in addition to computational and cognitive training. One might even ask: "What took you so long?"
...Pfeifer has been shouting from the roof tops for several years, with some success, about the role that shape and form play in biological computation.

But today he and Hoffman go even further. They say that various low level cognitive functions such as locomotion are clearly simple forms of computation involving the brain-body-environment triumvirate.

That's why our definition of computation needs to be extended to include the influence of environment, they say.

For many simple actions, such as walking, these computations proceed more or less independently. These are 'natural' actions in the sense that they exploit the natural dynamics of the system.

But they also say it provides a platform on which more complex cognitive tasks can take place relatively easily. They think that systems emerge in the brain that can predict the outcome of these natural computations. That's obviously useful for forward planning.

Pfeifer and Hoffmann's idea is that more complex cognitive abilities emerge when these forward-planning mechanisms become decoupled from the system they are predicting. _MIT TR
Implications of Embodiment for Behaviour and Cognition

Artificial intelligence has been trying for the "easy score" ever since its founding, in the aftermath of World War II, and at the beginnings of the long-simmering cold war. But devoting one's resources to the easy score means that the deep underlying concepts are often neglected. And so it was and has been for over half a century. Advanced computing has been incredibly helpful over that time frame, demonstrating continuous progress, but there has never been a clear path to AI from anything coming out of computer science.

It is not clear that the Zurich researchers have gone beyond the insights of robotics researchers such as Rodney Brooks. But the fact that at least some AI workers are willing to think outside the box, is a hopeful sign.

No comments: