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Archive for December, 2008

robot
In conjunction with the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, a robotics exhibition is being held, called the Mobile Manipulation Challenge, from July 13-16 in 2009 in Pasadena, CA.

They need contributions, and are looking for demonstrations of physically embodied robots performing mobile manipulation tasks. Areas of interest include: Point-and-fetching, assembling structures, and searching for hidden objects.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent out March 20th of 2009. Go here for more information.

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Donna Haraway

Donna Haraway


Donna Haraway is currently a professor of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She began her career studying Zoology and Philosophy, and eventually earned her Ph.D. in Biology from Yale in 1972.

Haraway’s most central contribution to the study of embodiment comes at an intersection between her diverse scholarship in the history of philosophy, the science of biology and feminist epistemology. A critic of the traditional notion of objectivity as ‘a view from nowhere’, Haraway instead proposes that objectivity must be situated knowledge. In her own words, from Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective:

I am arguing for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity.

Utilizing the metaphor of knowledge as vision, she argues that a nuanced understanding of vision and perception reveals that an object of sight (and likewise, an object of knowledge) cannot be conceptually or empirically removed from an embodied, structured and filtered context– from a situated point of view.

Her contributions to epistemology are paramount, but she is also acclaimed for her deconstructions of the masculinized metaphors and narratives which direct the science of primatology. She is also a major critic of essentialism, and is famous for her “Cyborg Manifesto”, wherein she utilizes the metaphor of the cyborg to fog traditional demarcations, dichotomies, conceptual divisions and social constructions regarding gender and race.

As a proponent of the power of technology to liberate, she is a constant contributor to cyberculture.

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robot
In this recent NY Times article, we get asked: “What happened to all of those early promises of having cogent robots, fully or partially integrated into our society, helping us out with all of our daily tasks?” Where are our robot maids, like in The Jetsons? Robots to dramatically and obnoxiously warn us of impending dangers, such as in Lost in Space? Robot pets? It’s already just about 8 years after Stanley Kubrick’s ominous prediction of 2001, so where are they?

‘Artificial intelligence’ has become a radical misnomer with the focus more on the ‘artificial’ rather than the ‘intelligence’. Cutting edge roboticists at the MIT robotics laboratory have an astute answer. Quite simply, early models of artificial intelligence took it for granted what seem to us to be simple bodily tasks, motor functions and perceptive abilities. It turns out that those are actually the most difficult kinds of abilities to program.

If cognition is fundamentally embodied, then it’s no surprise that intelligence hasn’t emerged in robots. Before you can have real, versatile intelligence, you have to master simple motor tasks in non-structured environments. It turns out our ability to do things like reach and grab for objects or walk through a changing environment has more to do with higher cognition than anything else. And so far, we can’t even put together a robot with the same motor capabilities of a newborn; or a cockroach, for that matter.

On the bright side, there’s also no foreseeable danger of assassin terminators taking over the world, either.

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iCub

iCub


The RobotCub Project is fascinating, ongoing research which is studying cognition through the construction of a robot, called the iCub, which is a humanoid with roughly the appearance and size of a 3.5 year old child– which is currently about the same age as the project. This is the kind of research that is revolutionizing our knowledge of embodied, enactive cognition.

Even better, the project is entirely open source and public. At their website at robotcub.org, you can find source files, publications, pictures, videos and updates on the project. You can view the iCub software files. They’re always open to new international collaborators and partners.

The project also runs a yearly “summer school” where students have the chance to experiment with the iCub, and which helps to encourage embodied artificial cognitive systems research.

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Francisco Varela

Francisco Varela


Francisco Varela (1946-2001) was a Chilean biologist, neuroscientist and philosopher, and is on the shortlist of visionary pioneers who conceived the interdisciplinary thesis of the embodied mind.

He began his academic career studying medicine and biology but also had a wide philosophical orientation, being primarily influenced by the work of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Varela also became a Tibetan Buddhist in the 1970’s. Undoubtedly influenced by both, he was well-positioned to join an understanding of the body in nature with an internal examination of consciousness and experience. His interdisciplinary connections were extensive, which ultimately led to the co-founding of the Integral Institute, a thinktank specifically aimed at sharing ideas between different disciplines.

The ultimate accumulation of his expertise was the publication of the canonical book, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, co-authored with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch. He is also responsible for introducing the term neurophenomenology, which conjoins the distinct methods of inquiry from phenomenology and neuroscience; a fundamental union in the development of the embodied mind thesis.

Varela is also responsible for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology, which refers to the self-creation and self-maintenance of biological systems.

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