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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Robotics and Legal Responsibility

With robotic devices increasingly prevalent in 'real life', and the prospect of ever more autonomous robots, there is a need for legislation to be updated to reflect the changing conditions. An article I read on Wired a few days ago reminded of an EU project that started last year: RoboLaw, which has the aim of exploring how emerging robotics technologies influence and are affected by the law (see also this, which I've just come across). This issue is brought into sharper focus in the case of something going wrong, where the question of responsibility arises. For instance, there's been a lot going around in recent months on the autonomous car efforts of Google and others. If there were to be a crash, who would take the blame? Would it be the manufacturer in the obvious absence of driver error, or perhaps those responsible for road/signalling maintenance? Indeed, would the technically possible autonomy be scaled back to maintain direct human oversight in order to mitigate the potential legal minefield? While there have been some legislative attempts to address this, there clearly is a way to go.

Individual researchers actually working on the supporting technologies have increasingly considered the implications, and potential implications, of their own field of research, typically focusing on the ethics involved in the (proposed) applications. Indeed, a couple of years ago now, I wrote something on the consequences of my ongoing work on memory in the context of human-robot interaction, though my effort was more directed at the possible legal implications of memory system technologies than ethics. The paper considered the implications of new computational means of providing the function of memory (specifically the use of sub-symbolic networks). It specifically proposed that as a consequence of the details of the technologies potentially used, current privacy legislation may not be suitable to account for new generations of autonomous social robots.

In my view, this is a small example of a wider need to consider the actual technologies in (proposed) use when considering legislative requirements - hence a need for the scientific/engineering community to engage with the legislative process (and therefore vice versa). However, in order for this to be effected, I feel that it would be beneficial to have common perspective or approach on the part of the researchers, which even if not unified is at least coherent. With one of the main deliverables of the project intended to be a white paper recommending regulatory guidelines to European legislators, this project has the potential to help provide this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review of "How to Build a Bionic Man"

This was a Channel 4 documentary on a week or two ago (I believe it's still viewable for those based in the U.K.) - I wasn't going to write a review of it at first. But then today, I noticed that there was a review of it on  the IEEE Robotics and Automation blog.

My first opinions of the documentary were unrelentingly poor. As a programme as a whole, I thought it was awful (the mostly inane voice-over commentary didn't help) - the thread that supposedly holds this together is the goal " create the worlds first bionic man, that can get off the slab and walk among us" (approx 1:10 minutes in). In terms of robotics it was dire: misleading, decidedly not state of the art, and poorly executed (as is typical for programmes such as this, it both over and understates the current state-of-the-art in robotics). As for 'building a bionic man', it was rather pathetic, an excuse to get in the dodgy sci-fi to make it more 'popular', and ending up with sensationalist nonsense. I can well imagine a director throughout in the background shouting "ham it up for the camera!" rather a lot...

However, the positive I did draw out of it (and this is what the IEEE blog post reminded me of) was that as a commentary on synthetic body parts, there is much of interest. The overview of the technologies both available and under development for the replacement of a whole host of limbs (in the news again recently) and internal organs was genuinely interesting, and quite well done. I thought the synthetic heart was particularly striking for instance.

The role of Bertolt Meyer was to add the personal touch to the tech-talk. For this, apart from the seemingly over-egged reaction to seeing a copy of his face on the resulting machine and the bit where he is pretending to talk to a plastic skull (though for all I know these were genuine reactions...), he was an ideal foil, being the user (possibly not the right phrase here) of a prosthetic hand himself. The snippets of interviews with the developers of the respective protheses were informative and realistic (i.e. didn't seem to be creatively edited in a way that detracted from the real technological advances made by focusing on the trivial or controversial).

It's a shame that the programme seems so poorly executed (and it is the programme I have a problem with), as there's lots of really great stuff that's been put together that doesn't, in my view, get the credit and clarity it deserves. And I can't imagine that the guys at Shadow Robot are particularly enamored at being portrayed as the stereotypical mad scientist loons confined to a basement, as they do genuinely great work (their hand is really quite impressive, and being used in a number of research endeavors around the world).

Sorry for somewhat rant-ish nature of that - I was possibly a little harsh in places, but as may be apparent, I don't think much of this documentary. I think that it mixes concepts from robotics, artificial intelligence and prosthetics research in a way that actually detracts from each, and is done from the perspective of entertainment under the guise of being informative.