Friday, December 10, 2010

Thesis finally published

I am pleased to say that my thesis has now finally been published and submitted, with my graduation ceremony next week. After that, I will have truly finished the long and arduous road that was my PhD. Since I've stayed in academia (so far at least...) I'm going to engage in a little self-promotion (what's a blog for otherwise?), and give the thesis abstract for those (very few) of you who may be interested.

Foundations of a Constructivist Memory-Based approach to Cognitive Robotics:

Synthesis of a Theoretical Framework and Application Case Studies

Cognitive robotics are applicable to many aspects of modern society. These artificial agents may also be used as platforms to investigate of the nature and function of cognition itself through the creation and manipulation of biologically-inspired cognitive architectures. However, the flexibility and robustness of current systems are limited by the restricted use of previous experience.

Memory thus has a clear role in cognitive architectures, as a means of linking past experience to present and future behaviour. Current cognitive robotics architectures typically implement a version of Working Memory - a functionally separable system that forms the link between long-term memory (information storage) and cognition (information processing). However, this division of function gives rise to practical and theoretical problems, particularly regarding the nature, origin and use of the information held in memory and used in the service of ongoing behaviour.

The aim of this work is to address these problems by synthesising a new approach to cognitive robotics, based on the perspective that cognition is fundamentally concerned with the manipulation and utilisation of memory. A novel theoretical framework is proposed that unifies memory and control into a single structure: the Memory-Based Cognitive Framework (MBCF). It is shown that this account of cognitive functionality requires the mechanism of constructivist knowledge formation through ongoing environmental interaction, the explicit integration of agent embodiment, and a value system to drive the development of coherent behaviours.

A novel robotic implementation - the Embodied MBCF Agent (EMA) - is introduced to illustrate and explore the central features of the MBCF. By encompassing aspects of both network structures and explicit representation schemes, neural and non-neural inspired processes are integrated to an extent not possible in current approaches.

This research validates the memory-based approach to cognitive robotics, providing the foundation for the application of these principles to higher-level cognitive competencies.

This work was conducted at the University of Reading (U.K.) under the supervision of Dr. Will Browne. While I enjoyed my time there, it was a fairly lonely research process, and I am very much appreciating the opportunity for frequent and open discussions that I now have in Plymouth.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What's the point of having evidence..

... if it's not going to be used, or ignored because it doesn't match the current state of public opinion.

Sometimes it's frankly just embarrassing...

The removal of a few lines from a piece of paper (admittedly legislation) is going to remove the requirement for formal scientific advice in the determination of drug policy in the U.K. (noted though that it doesn't necessarily mean that no scientists will form part of the relevant committee - but it's surely not a good sign: these are politicians we're talking about.) I would have hoped that the change in government might have meant that 'squabbles' of the past may have been left there - but then the idea that government policy could be challenged by people who know more than politicians would be worrying for anyone in power, whatever their political persuasion. Besides, the manipulation of evidence (and statistics) to serve political ends is hardly new is it - except that now it can technically be done without the evidence in the first place.

Oh well, only another 4 years until the next opportunity to register displeasure at the ballot box...