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Archive for the ‘Biological Sciences’ Category

Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks


Rodney Brooks is a Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he also the directs the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Unquestionably, Brooks is the figurehead and principle leader of the embodied robotics movement.

Since his work was first published in 1986, Brooks has brought forth a new era in artificial intelligence. Instead of focusing on symbolic processing, which classical artificial intelligence was modeled on, he prioritized robotic architectures which were biologically-inspired. That meant focusing on sensorimotor and perceptual abilities– the capabilities an intelligent agent needs to interact successfully with the real world.

Brooks was also the first to point out that programming and embodying sensorimotor intelligence was far more challenging than programming basic symbolic reasoning skills. Thus, he argued that complex intelligence must ultimately be built out of those sensorimotor capabilities rather than from symbolic reasoning systems.

His classic article on this subject is titled Elephants Don’t Play Chess. His canonical books include the insightful Flesh and Machines, as well as Cambrian Intelligence. He is also a great popularizer of the subject, and has been featured in motion picture documentaries such as in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.

Some of his new work is in developing low cost robots that will empower workers and evolve the world’s labor markets.

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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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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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