Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cronos and Cognitive Reserve

Over the past couple of days, I've come across two very interesting posts which I thought I'd share: the first is the concept of "Cognitive Reserve", by way of an interview with one of its main proponents, and the second is an interesting look at robot ethics and machine consciousness, with some nice links to some very interesting people.

Cognitive Reserve: SharpBrains has an interview with Yaakov Stern (Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center, and Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York) on Cognitive Reserve. The idea is basically that some people who are better able to withstand the effects of Alzheimer's have a greater cognitive reserve, i.e. numbers of neurons, which make up for the deficit. Also central to the theory is that mental and physical training aids in the building up of this cognitive reserve in a cumulative way.

Robot Ethics: A nice post I came across a few days ago at Bloggetiblog - a discussion of robot ethics. It mentions the humanoid robot Cronos in relation to Owen Hollands machine consciousness project, a quote from Murray Shanahan, and a brief look at the ethical issues facing robots and their designers. Altogether a nice read.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another week away - Summer School

For the past week, I was away in Germany at the 5th Neuro-IT summer school in Delmenhorst (near Bremen), hence no posts. I hope to post a few of my (bullet-pointed) notes on some of the talks over the next few days - the subjects were very varied and technical, and needless to say, extremely interesting. To my dissapointment, one of the people I went to see, Ezequiel di Paolo, wasn't able to attend, but the school was nevertheless excellent.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Walking like us: Runbot

The BBC technology news has today reported on a small robot called Runbot, which has been designed to walk in a way mechanically similar to humans - in contrast to robots such as Asimo, which has each of its movements meticulously calculated and executed using precise control algorithms, leading to its unnatural gait. Runbot takes advantage of morphology and environmental characteristics (such as gravity) in much the same way as Passive Dynamic Walkers (PDW's - such as the Cornell walker), although it moves further by incorporating learning and motor mechanisms to enable walking over slopes (both up and down) and flat surfaces, which PDW's can not. The control architecture is not centralised but distributed, using nested artificial neural networks, and the ability to learn from previous experience. This enables 'normal' walking behaviour to be carried out relatively automatically (as with the PDW's), but when the circumstances change (for instance when an incline is encountered), higher level processes use the previously learned information to mainting balance and forward momentum. In this way, speeds of up to three leg lengths per second are achievable, which is only slightly slower than the fastest walking human.

UPDATE 14/07: Madam Fathom has a much more detailed overview of the Runbot here, describing central pattern generators, and the hierarchical organisation. Well worth a look.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Encephalon anniversary edition... and holidays

Since I'm off on holiday for the next week, I won't be able to link to the newest edition of Encephalon, which also happens to be its first anniversary. So I'll link to the place it's going to be (as I understand it...): the all new Neurophilosophy @ Scienceblogs! And I hope to post again on the 12th...