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.

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.

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.



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.

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.

Over at Edge, a video interview and written transcript have been posted of Alva Noë discussing many of the philosophical problems concerning consciousness, and how a paradigm shift toward an embodied understanding of mind might help to resolve those problems.

Within it, Noë notes that most modern cognitivist research about consciousness and experience within neuroscience and classical cognitive science are actually just recycling many of the old problems of consciousness within a new framework. In other words, although the framework has changed, the same ways of understanding– the same paradigms– are still in place.

He uses the metaphor of a dancer to refocus instead on the importance of movement, action and the environment in the making of consciousness. He also ponders the mysteries of pictorial paradoxes about reference and meaning, and again discusses how an embodied approach offers answers.

Alva Noë is a professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley.

Human-Robot Interaction

Human-Robot Interaction

A fascinating symposium will be held April 8-9 in 2009 about human-robot interaction (HRI) in Edinburgh, Scotland:

Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) is a growing research field with many application areas that could have a big impact not only economically, but also on the way we live and the kind of relationships we may develop with machines. Due to its interdisciplinary nature different views and approaches towards HRI need to be nurtured. This symposium will provide a platform to discuss collaboratively recent findings and challenges in HRI. Different categories of submissions are encouraged that reflect the different types of research studies that are being carried out. The symposium will encourage a diversity of views on HRI and different approaches taken. In the highly interdisciplinary research field of HRI, a peaceful dialogue among such approaches is expected to contribute to the synthesis of a body of knowledge that may help HRI sustain its creative inertia that has drawn to HRI during the past 10 years many researchers from HCI, robotics, psychology, the social sciences, and other fields.

The symposium will highlight a variety of topics, some of which include sensors and interfaces for HRI, human-aware robot perception, dialogue and multi-modal human-robot interaction, robot architectures for socially intelligent robots, HRI field studies in naturalistic environments, robots that learn socially and adapt to people and embodied interfaces for smart homes.

There will also be a companion symposium called, Killer robots or friendly fridges: the social understanding of Artificial Intelligence, which will address ethical issues in HRI.

Abstracts and submissions will be taken for the conference until January 9th, 2009.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff

If any single figure could be considered the guru for the current embodied philosophy movement, it has to be George Lakoff. Although technically a linguist, he is probably best known for his extensive interdisciplinary work in cognitive science, conceptual metaphor and politics. His published work includes the closest thing to a bible in the embodiment movement, Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, which he co-authored with Mark Johnson. And he co-authored the breakthrough book, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, with Rafael Núñez, which has spearheaded the entire field of embodied mathematics.

Arguably, Lakoff’s original foray into embodiment began within his work with conceptual metaphor, which has revolutionized the importance of that subfield within the embodiment movement. His work there can be most accessed in the books, Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson) and More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (with Mark Turner). And one work which bridges many of these earlier ideas is Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. His other contributions to linguistics have included proposing generative semantics as a substitute to Chomsky’s generative syntax.

Obviously Lakoff’s work here has been canonical, but he’s also well known for his political work, which primarily regards political rhetoric and political linguistics. As a political strategist, Lakoff has often been hailed as the “liberal Karl Rove”. He is the founder of the progressive think tank, the Rockridge Institute.

George Lakoff is currently a professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972.

A new study appearing in the journal of Psychological Science suggests that the metaphor of social coldness can make the body actually feel cold.

Subjects in the study, when shrugged off and left socially isolated, believed that room temperature was significantly lower than subjects who were involved in social interaction. The study also found that socially shrugged individuals had a stronger craving for hot drinks and food, such as hot chocolate and soup.

This demonstrates more than just how conceiving of things through bodily metaphor (such as the notion of social isolation being ‘cold’– i.e., ‘being given a cold shoulder’) can influence the actual state of the body. Perhaps more aptly, it suggests that our bodily experiences of a particular situation can frame how we conceive of that situation.

The study supports the hypothesis within embodied cognition that conceptualization must be essentially metaphorical. That is, conceptualization is tied to how the body is situated, thus higher-level, conscious understanding is conceived through bodily metaphor.

Researchers also said the findings may suggest that hot chocolate could be a better comfort food for rejection than ice cream.

This is not exactly the most engaging production, but the discussion does span a wide variety of issues related to embodiment.

Hubert Dreyfus discusses notions of embodiment throughout the history of philosophy, particularly in relation to the philosophy of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and relates it to modern research within Artificial Intelligence and the Internet.

Part 1:

Part 2: