University of Zürich,
Traditionally, in robotics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience, there has been a focus on the study of the control or the neural system itself. Recently there has been an increasing interest into the notion of embodiment in all disciplines dealing with intelligent behavior, including psychology, philosophy, and linguistics. In an embodied perspective, cognition is conceived as emergent from the interaction of brain, body, and environment, or more generally from the relation between physical and information (neural, control) processes. It can be shown, and this is one of the underlying assumptions of the eSMC project, that through the embodied interaction with the environment, in particular through sensory-motor coordination, information structure is induced in the sensory data, thus facilitating categorization, perception and learning. The patterns thus induced depend jointly on the morphology, the material characteristics, the action and the environment. Because biological systems are mostly “soft”, a new engineering discipline, “soft robotics”, has taken shape over the last few years. I will discuss the far-reaching implications of embodiment, in particular of having a soft body, on our view of the mind and human behavior in general: Cognition is no longer centralized in the brain, but distributed throughout the organism, functionality is “outsourced” to morphological and material properties of the organism, which requires an understanding of processes of self-organization. Because in “soft” systems part of the functionality is in the morphology and materials, there is no longer a clear separation between control and the to-be-controlled, which implies that we need to fundamentally re-think the notion of control. The ideas will all be illustrated with case studies from biology — humans and animals — and robotics and will be summarized as a set of four “message” for embodied systems.