14. Mai 2012 – On the role of embodiment on the emergence of cognition: “The four messages”

Das Kolleg-Forschergruppe Bildakt und Verkörperung lädt Sie herzlich ein zu einem Vortrag von

Prof. Dr. Rolf Pfeifer

Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, University of Zurich, Switzerland
National Competence Center Research in Robotics, Switzerland

On the role of embodiment on the emergence of cognition:
“The four messages”

Montag, 14. Mai 2012, 19.00 Uhr c.t.
Kolleg-Forschergruppe Bildakt und Verkörperung
Seminarraumm 3.01
Charlottenstraße 42/Ecke Dorotheenstraße
10117 Berlin

Einladung (PDF)


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 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.

Short Bio

Rolf Pfeifer received his master’s degree in physics and mathematics and his Ph.D. in computer science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. He spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie-Mellon University and at Yale University in the US. Since 1987 he has been a professor of computer science at the Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, and director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Visiting professor and research fellow at the Free University of Brussels, the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass., the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) in San Diego, the Beijing Open Laboratory for Cognitive Science, and the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris. Elected “21st Century COE Professor, Information Science and Technology” at the University of Tokyo in 2004. In 2009 he was also a visiting professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, and he was appointed “Fellow of the School of Engineering” at the University of Tokyo. Currently, he is the Deputy Director of the NCCR Robotics, the “National Competence Center for Research in Robotics” in Switzerland. His research interests are in the areas of embodiment, biorobotics, artificial evolution and morphogenesis, modular robotics, self-assembly and educational technology. He is the author of the books “Understanding Intelligence”, MIT Press, 1999 (with C. Scheier), “How the body shapes the way we think: a new view of intelligence,” 2007 (with Josh Bongard) MIT Press (popular science style), “Designing intelligence – why brains aren’t enough” (short version – with Josh Bongard and Don Berry, e-book), and “La révolution de l’intelligence encorporée” (“The revolution of embodied intelligence”; with Alexandre Pitti) (in French, to appear May 2012). Lecture series: “The ShanghAI Lectures”, a global mixed-reality lecture series on embodied intelligence, broadcast this time from the University of Zurich, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China in cooperation with other universities from around the globe (fall term 2012, starting Thursday, 20 September 2012 until December 2012).
World exhibition: ROBOTS ON TOUR – World Congress and Exhibition of Robots, Humanoids, Cyborgs, and more. 9 March 2013, Zurich (Puls 5).