The Human Brain

The Human Brain

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Evolutionary Robotics, Self-Perception, and Evolutionary Theory

Evolutionary robotics is a relatively new field that integrates evolutionary theory, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Researchers in the field of evolutionary robotics create fitness functions that allow genetic algorithms or robotic controls to evolve over time. Essentially, evolutionary robotics can model processes of evolutionary learning in which a robot can understand and replicate its own form.
Recently, Hod Lipson, a professor in evolutionary robotics at the Cornell University, gave a talk at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society’s annual meeting in Williamsburg, VA. His talk was entitled “What do Robots Dream of? Emergent Self-Models in Machine Minds.” In his talk, he explained that researching robotic systems has not only practical implications (e.g. industrial robotics), but it can also elucidate the complexities of human development, evolution, and human behavior.
During his lecture, he discussed some of the many research projects that he has been working on at Cornell. Two of the projects that were of most interest to me were the robots that cold model there own structure and robots that could self-replicate.
Self-Modeling Robots
Lipson and his colleagues have found that certain fitness functions can allow robots to model and understand their own structure. Although robots do not yet have what we often refer to as consciousness, they do have the ability to recognize changes in their robotic structure through a process of continuous self-modeling. For example, a robot that has five appendages can recognize when one of its appendages is amputated and it can adapt its behavior to be congruent with its new structure.
Self-Replicating Robots
Lipson and his colleagues have also found that they can use certain fitness functions and programming to design robots that can replicate themselves. These robots not only have the ability to model themselves, but they also have the ability to construct a replication of themselves. Although they are not self-replicators to the extent that we are, they can put pre-constructed robotic parts together and essentially recreate themselves.
Evolutionary Robotics and Consciousness
So what does evolutionary robotics have to do with the human perception of consciousness? A couple of months ago, I published a post which described Douglass Hofstader’s perspective on consciousness, which suggests that we are evolved perceivers that have turned our perceptions on ourselves to create the illusion of consciousness and self-perception. Evolutionary robotics may shed a different light on self-perception. Maybe our perception of consciousness and self is nothing more than a self-model which allows us to adapt our behavior to the structure of our biological system.

For futher reading, check out these articles.

Resilient Machines Through Continuous Self-Modeling
Reproducing Robots