Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A short note on Artificial Ethology

In attempting to understand the workings of a complex system such as the human brain, psychology has analysed the behaviour of individuals when performing certain tasks to infer the internal processes at work as those tasks are completed. The study of behaviour is thus an important aspect of brain research. In zoology, the term ‘ethology’ describes the study of animal behaviour. ‘Artificial ethology’ thus describes the study of behaviour of artificial agents [1], and has been described as being an important aspect of research in the development of autonomous [2] or developmental robotics [3].

Robotics have been used extensively in the past for exploring biological issues by using the observed behaviour of the artificial agents as a means of identifying functional requirements. ‘Grey’ Walter’s tortoises were created as a means of investigating goal seeking behaviour, with numerous parallels made to simple animal behaviour (as reviewed in [4]) and the use of biological inspiration in the same way as is currently used. Similarly, Braitenberg vehicles [5], particularly the simpler vehicles, have a strong biological influence (Valentino Braitenberg is himself a brain researcher, who proposed the vehicles as a thought experiment), and provide a strong example of how the environment, as coupled through the physical agent, plays just as important a role in the behaviour (and ‘autonomy’) of an agent as the control mechanism (as discussed in chapter six of “Understanding Intelligence” [6]). These two examples (many others are described and discussed in [6] and [1]) demonstrate that the use of robotic agents, and particularly the behaviour of those agents, to examine theoretical problems from the animal sciences is an established success. Indeed, it has been suggested that the ultimate aim of artificial agent research is to contribute to the understanding of human cognition [7].

[1] Holland, O. and D. McFarland, Artificial Ethology. 2001, Oxford: Oxford University Press (summary)
[2] Sharkey, N.E. and T. Ziemke, Mechanistic versus Phenomenal embodiment: can robot embodiment lead to strong AI? Journal of Cognitive Systems Research, 2001. 2: p. 251-262 (review)
[3] Meeden, L.A. and D.S. Blank, Introduction to Developmental Robotics. Connection Science, 2006. 18(2): p. 93-96
[4] Holland, O., Exploration and high adventure: the legacy of Grey Walter. Philosophical Transactions Of the Royal Society of London A, 2003. 361: p. 2085-2121
[5] Braitenberg, V., Vehicles, experiments in synthetic psychology. 1984, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press (review)
[6] Pfeifer, R. and C. Scheier, Understanding Intelligence. 2001, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press
[7] Guillot, A. and J.-A. Meyer, The Animat contribution to Cognitive Systems Research. Journal of Cognitive Systems Research, 2001. 2: p. 157-165 (review)


wolf said...

Thanks for this and the previous posts. Really interesting stuff.

Paul said...

Thanks for you comment - I'm glad you're finding something of interest here :-)

jprapp said...

Paul, great website.

The robotics discussion reminded me of neuroscience researcher William H. Calvin who Darwinizes consciousness as cascades thoughts emerging and competitively vying for attention, but I’m not sure how “goal seeking behavior” in robotics (am I reading this right?) might similarly be competitive or cooperative between robotic agents sharing an environment? I normally think of robotics in industrially engineered settings with the goal of providing synchronized maximized utility (“The Matrix”) ...