Snake vs. Robosquirrel

Posted in robotics on February 5th, 2012 by Samuel Kenyon

Animal behavior scientists are teaming up with engineers to devise new kinds of research tools: mechatronic animal models.


Or you could just call them robots.


Robosquirrel was made as part of a collaboration between UC Davis, West Chester University, and San Diego State University.

Field-ready Robosquirrel

Is that a real squirrel?

Nope! Chuck Testa.

Nope! Chuck Testa.

That was a joke…Chuck Testa was not involved with this study. But given his talents, maybe he should be involved with ethology research robots.

Now you may be thinking, wait a minute…that’s just a taxidermy on a box. How is this a robot?

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Recursion and the Human Mind

Posted in artificial intelligence on December 5th, 2011 by Samuel Kenyon

It’s certainly not new to propose recursion as a key element of the human mind—for instance Douglas Hofstadter has been writing about that since the 1970s.

nested recursion

Michael C. Corballis, a former professor of psychology, came out with a new book this year called The Recursive Mind. It explains his specific theory that I will attempt to outline here.

The Recursive Mind

As I understand it, his theory is composed of these parts:

  1. The ability of the human mind to generate concepts recursively is what causes the main differences between homo sapiens and other animals.
  2. A Chomskian internal language is the basis for all external languages and other recursive abilities. (See this blog post by Corballis for a summary of an internal language as a universal grammar).
  3. External languages evolved on top of the recursive abilities primarily for storytelling and social cohesion.
  4. External languages started with gestures, and most likely were followed by mouth clicking languages before vocal languages emerged.

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Enactive Interface Perception and Affordances

Posted in artificial intelligence, interfaces on November 14th, 2011 by Samuel Kenyon

I just published version 2 of my Enactive Interface Perception essay over on Science 2.0.

It’s now called “Enactive Interface Perception and Affordances”.

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Architecting Emotional Robots

Posted in artificial intelligence, robotics on April 7th, 2011 by Samuel Kenyon

Creating a robot with emotions is a software development problem.

How does the zebra feel right now?

Emotion is a matter of cognitive architecture.  It is part of the information system of the mind.  Recreating “emotions” really means recreating a type of mind that uses internal mechanisms similar to our minds.  Making an emotional machine requires the proper design and implementation and deployment.

The reason I added “deployment” in there is because environment is quite important.  The mind is a system that interacts with other entities—there is an information flow.  The level of externalism required affects how situated and/or embodied an artificial agent has to be.  That is where robots come in.  However, a robot and its world can be simulated.

What Do I Mean by Architecture?

The metaphor of architecture lets us think of the mind as a building.  But really I mean a large building that was built from millions of interlocking parts and took months or years to design.  And as with buildings, a mind is not just designed and built—it also has to survive the real world.

The metaphor breaks down a bit when you consider how natural minds emerge from ever-changing, growing (or shrinking), adaptable, flexible bags of meat.  However, in their own slow way buildings do change via maintenance and new additions, and they are in fact flexible and movable so as to survive wind and earthquakes.

Of equal or greater importance, I also think of architecture here in its software engineering usage [1]:

Architecture is the fundamental organization of a system embodied in its components, their relationships to each other, and to the environment, and the principles guiding its design and evolution.

Why Do We Need an Entire Architecture?

One might think that a programmer could just add in some emotion—make a few calls to the emotion function, or tack on a loosely coupled Emotion module.  But based on the best theories so far from researchers, emotions are actually many things going in the mind.  And they are all inherent in the system and intertwined with evolutionarily old parts.  In other words, if you ripped out all the stuff related to emotions, you wouldn’t have much left.  In future posts I will go into the details of potential architectures and why there are certain dependencies.

[1] IEEE Computer Society, IEEE Recommended Practice for Architectural Description of Software-Intensive Systems: IEEE Std 1472000. 2000. via P. Eeles, “What is a software architecture?”

Image credits:

1. safari-partners
2. Marko Ljubez

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