Sunday, April 06, 2014

AISB Symposium on New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction last week

At the end of last week, I was at the AISB 2014 symposium on New Frontiers in HRI, held at Goldsmiths College, London. Held over two days (well, not quite full days...), it was modestly sized (around 30 on the first day, fewer on the second), but with plenty of time given over to discussion, it was a good size to have the majority of people engage in talking and discussing with one another. The range of topics was quite eclectic (within the HRI theme of course), but there were enough people with wide enough interests/experience to keep the discussion going to greater extent than I was expecting - sometimes, I find that scheduled discussions fall a bit flat with a few too many awkward silences, but that wasn't the case here.

I gave a little overview of my work on applying a memory-centred cognition perspective to social human-robot interaction. I don't think I did particularly well at summarising the particular approach I take, but reckon I at least managed to get across some of the broad ideas involved. Seeing as my starting point is relatively uncontroversial (my assertion that memory is in some way involved in all aspects of human-robot interaction - indeed any social interaction), this was what I hoped. In any case, I tried to make a clear distinction between the the theoretical framework I was proposing, and the actual computation model I have developed to start to explore this question. The reason for this is that I know there are flaws in my implementation (as a model, this is in principle inevitable), but I didn't want people to dismiss the underlying idea as a consequence of this. The general panel discussion afterwards was mostly centred on the role of emotion in HRI (which was a fascinating discussion), but there was a little on these memory-centred ideas too, in which I tried to reinforce the theory rather than my implementation of it (who knows how successfully!).

Elsewhere in the symposium, the one general AISB keynote lecture I went to was given by Humberto Maturana. While it was given over skype (bit too far for him to come over in person...), it was still great to hear him speak in (virtual) person, as someone whose ideas had been such a profound influence on multiple fields of research, and of course my own. It was quite a wide-ranging talk, encompassing many different fields, but all tied together with the central theme of autopoiesis for which he is known. He structured this around four man questions: (1) what kind of systems are robots; (2) what kind of systems are living systems; (3) how does the nervous system operate; and (4) how do we operate as self-conscious beings? The result was an eclectic mix of topics (from life and death, to language, to ethics, and more besides), but which still maintained a coherency that I could follow (as far as I could understand at least!).

Humberto Maturana giving one of the AISB 2014 plenary talks over Skype.

Finally, just a quick note on the workshop I organised last month at the HRI conference with Greg Trafton on Cognitive Architectures for HRI. It was very well subscribed to (over 30 people for the session, which compared very favourably to other workshops running simultaneously), which was more than we were expecting. The invited speakers (Yiannis Demiris, Matthias Scheutz, and Angelo Cangelosi) provided a very good structure, covering a range of topics and perspectives that (according to the various comments from people afterwards) were engaging and indeed appreciated in terms of providing a different take that some were familiar with. Indeed, this also proved to be one of the drawbacks to the workshop: given the half day (and a few little technical issues...) we didn't have the time for discussions of any great length. I take it as a good sign though that people were dissapointed by this, and is certainly something that could be rectified if we were to organise another one.

Friday, December 20, 2013

HRI 2014 Workshop on Cognitive Architectures for Human-Robot Interaction

I am co-organising a half-day workshop at the 9th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction next year (HRI'14), that will be held on the 3rd of March 2014 in Bielefeld, Germany. If you have any interest in this topic, or even would just like to find out more, please consider joining us! We have intended that this will be an inclusive event, with a high discussion content, and an emphasis on dissemination of ideas that will hopefully influence ongoing (social) Human-Robot Interaction research.

I've been interested in cognitive systems, cognitive robotics and cognitive architectures for a while now as my interest (and subsequent research) is in exploring general principles of cognition/intelligence, both for understanding natural systems and for the development of 'better' robotic systems (to test theories and accomplish tasks). I think that Human-Robot Interaction provides a fascinating context to explore cognitive architectures, as it provides a very different set of challenges to theory and implementation than have typically been considered. Hence the workshop!


HRI 2014 Workshop on Cognitive Architectures for Human-Robot Interaction

Monday 3rd March, 2014 (Bielefeld, Germany)


** Submission deadline: Friday 10th January, 2014
** Notification of acceptance: Monday 20th January, 2014
** Final (accepted) submission: Friday 7th February, 2014
** Workshop: Monday 3rd March, 2014 (half day)

Cognitive Architectures are constructs (encompassing both theory and models) that seek to account for cognition (over multiple timescales) using a set of domain-general structures and mechanisms. Typically inspired by human cognition, the emphasis is on deriving a set of principles of operation not constrained to a specific task or context. This therefore presents a holistic perspective: it forces the system designer to initially take a step back from diving into computational mechanisms and consider what sort of functionality needs to be present, and how this relates to other cognitive competencies. Thus the very process of applying such an approach to HRI may yield benefits, such as the integration of evidence from the human sciences in a principled manner, the facilitation of comparison of different systems (abstracting away from specific computational algorithms), and as a more principled manner to verify and refine the resultant autonomous systems.

For HRI, such an approach to building autonomous systems based on Cognitive Architecture, 'cognitive integration', would emphasise first those aspects of behaviour that are common across domains, before applying these to specific interaction contexts for evaluation. Furthermore, given inspiration from human cognition, it can also inherently take into account the behaviour of the humans with which the system should interact, with the intricacies and sub-optimality that this entails.

To date, there have been relatively few efforts to apply such ideas to the context of HRI in a structured manner. The aim of this workshop is therefore to provide a forum to discuss the reasons and potential for the application of Cognitive Architectures to autonomous HRI systems. It is expected that by attending this workshop and engaging in the discussions, participants will gain further insight into how a consideration of Cognitive Architectures complements the development of autonomous social robots, and contribute to the cross-fertilization of ideas in this exciting area.

Contributions are sought from all who are interested in participation. A light-touch review process will be applied to check for relevance - the emphasis of the workshop is on inclusion, discussion and dissemination. Prior to the workshop, the organizers will integrate these into a list a perspectives that will form the basis for the discussions.

Please prepare a 2-page position paper on your research-informed perspective on cognitive architectures for human-robot interaction (particularly social). The HRI template should be used for this submission (ACM SIG Proceedings). Submissions should be sent to: paul.baxter(a) All accepted position papers will be archived on the workshop website.

** Paul Baxter (Plymouth University, U.K.) and Greg Trafton (Naval Research Laboratory, USA)
** Email: paul.baxter(a)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cognitive Architecture for Social Human-Robot Interaction

It's now the last day of the summer school in Cambridge, and it's been a very interesting if packed week of talks, activities and discussions. Just what a summer school should be in my opinion.

I gave my little special session talk yesterday to a little group (all 25-30 of them, to whom I am grateful for not leaving when I invited them to do so towards the beginning of my talk*). It was an introductory overview of the application of cognitive architectures to the development of autonomous systems for social human-robot interaction. Here's the abstract I used to try and draw people in:
What is Cognitive Architecture and why is it important for HRI? The ongoing developments towards social companion robots raises questions of information integration, behavioural control, etc, in coordination and collaboration with humans. While introducing cognitive architecture, I will emphasise fundamental organisation and common operating principles, specifically based on inspiration from human cognition: learning from the agents with which the robots must socially interact. In this special interest session, these issues will be explored, taking in examples from existing architectures along the way. I would like to put forward the idea that a consideration of Social HRI from the perspective of cognitive architecture enables a different take on the design of social robots - one that emphasises holistic human-robot interacting systems. In doing so, the intention is to leave participants with more questions than are answered, in the hope that some of the issues raised find themselves being further developed in ongoing work.
It was only a short talk, and I intentionally focused on the motivations for wanting to do so, rather than trying to persuade people to use one particular approach or another (even refraining from mentioning my own views on the matter as much as possible). Nevertheless, we had some interesting little discussions, including one on the nature of organisation of behaviour: there were a few people who insisted that the classic "perception -> cognition -> action" pipeline model was the only thing that needed to be considered. While I respectfully disagreed (as does a great deal of the literature on robotics, enaction, active perception, embodied cognition, etc), it did remind me that this assumption does seem to be implicit in many different perspectives, whether cognitive architecture or not.

In any case: we've just had a great talk from Prof. Roger Moore (Uni Sheffield) on the motivation and basis for his mathematical model of the Uncanny Valley effect as very well known in the popular media. Well worth a look at the paper, as it has a number of fundamental consequences for the HRI domain.

* I always start my talks with the conclusion...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer School and Research Details

The Summer School on Social Human-Robot Interaction is now in full swing! Great talks so far, and some really good hands-on sessions. Last night was a workshop given by Aardman Animations on building models with plasticine - brilliant fun, and a nice insight on how to give the illusion of life to inanimate objects, which is of course a goal of social robotics research!

...see #hrisummerschool on Twitter...

And in other news, I've finally started to update my Research Details page, on which I outline in a little more detail the general research themes I am interested in. Please wander along and have a look!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Summer School on Social Human-Robot Interaction

On the off-chance that there's anyone reading this who may be interested, but who hasn't heard this elsewhere (...), then I'd like to mention a research-oriented summer school on Social Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) that will take place this coming August at Cambridge University, U.K. from the the 26th to 30th of August 2013.

Organised primary under the purview of the project I am employed by (ALIZ-E), and also involving the Accompany project, the aim of the school is to provide both theoretical background and practical skills to support researchers in the area of Social HRI. In stating 'social' the emphasis is moved away from industrial robots (or robots in manufacturing/automation contexts), for which interaction with humans in also necessary, and towards the use of robots in contexts where those characteristics of human-human interaction are more important (for example, companion robots, education support, caring in hospital/home, etc).

The application process has started already, with the deadline for submitting applications on the 30th April. With support from the IEEE and EuCognition, there will be a limited number of scholarships available for participants.

There's a list of topics being covered now available on the conference website, with the programme yet to be finalised. A little taster though:

The summer school will have a wide-ranging programme of lectures, discussions and hands-on ateliers on topics such as social signal processing, robotics and autism, child-robot interaction, multi-modal communication, natural language interaction, smart environments, robot assisted therapy, interaction design for robots, tools and technologies, and ethics. The school is participants who seek background and hands-on experience in the interdisciplinary science and technology supporting social human-robot interaction.
I'll be doing a little something on Cognitive Architecture for Social HRI at the school, and so emphasising aspects of cognitive processing and organisation for robot control and behaviour relevant (or at least of interest) to social interaction. Which is of course a fascinating subject that you would be foolish to miss :-p