The Problem of Meaning in AI and Robotics: Still with Us after All These Years

Fittingly published in the 10-year anniversary of the publication of “enactive AI“, here is a critical retrospective piece that at the same time marks a significant departure into new, largely unexplored directions. Exciting times!

The Problem of Meaning in AI and Robotics: Still with Us after All These Years

Tom Froese and Shigeru Taguchi

In this essay we critically evaluate the progress that has been made in solving the problem of meaning in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. We remain skeptical about solutions based on deep neural networks and cognitive robotics, which in our opinion do not fundamentally address the problem. We agree with the enactive approach to cognitive science that things appear as intrinsically meaningful for living beings because of their precarious existence as adaptive autopoietic individuals. But this approach inherits the problem of failing to account for how meaning as such could make a difference for an agent’s behavior. In a nutshell, if life and mind are identified with physically deterministic phenomena, then there is no conceptual room for meaning to play a role in its own right. We argue that this impotence of meaning can be addressed by revising the concept of nature such that the macroscopic scale of the living can be characterized by physical indeterminacy. We consider the implications of this revision of the mind-body relationship for synthetic approaches.

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Jorge Campos receives 2018 ISAL Award for Outstanding Student Research

I am proud to announce that the International Society for Artificial Life (ISAL) has awarded the following conference paper, which was based on Jorge’s Master’s thesis, with the “2018 ISAL Award for Outstanding Student Research”:

Campos, J.I. & Froese, T. (2017). Referential communication as a collective property of a brain-body-environment-body-brain system: A minimal cognitive model. 2017 IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence (SSCI), Honolulu, HI: IEEE Press, pp. 863-870.

Out of the nominated papers this paper was chosen as the best in terms of its scientific rigor and clarity.

The award will be announced at the ALIFE 2018 conference in Tokyo this year. alife2018-logo-screengrab

Talks at AISB 2015

I am giving two invited talks at this year’s meeting of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior (AISB 2015), which is being held in Canterbury, April 20-22. Titles and short abstracts are as follows:

The enactive theory of social cognition: From theory to experiment

Tom Froese

For over a decade I have been working on applying an evolutionary robotics approach to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of social interaction. At the same time I have been developing the enactive theory of social cognition by drawing on the phenomenological philosophy of intersubjectivity. Recently I was able to test the predictions deriving from this research on the basis of a psychological experiment using a new variation of the perceptual crossing paradigm. The empirical results support a genuinely enactive conception of social cognition as primarily grounded in embodied intersubjectivity.

The behavior-based origin of life and the problem of genetic representation

Tom Froese

Traditionally, there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first during the origin of life. While the metabolism-first approach focuses on chemical self-constitution of an individual, the replicator-first approach focuses on generational self-replication of a population of informational molecules. Yet both implicitly agree that the first forms of life were isolated, passive, and static individuals. Both ignore the intermediate timescales of activity between chemical self-constitution and population evolution: no mention is made of behavior and development. These assumptions are challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, which emphasize that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start. I consider how this behavior-based approach to the origin of life can inform our thinking about a number of traditional problems.
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