Tutorial on Embodiment

5.3. Cognition from Bottom-up*


As we have seen in the previous section, the distinction between cognitive and sensory-motor starts to blur. Categorization, perception, but even me­mory processes turn out to be directly coupled to sensory-motor processes and thus to embodiment (e.g., Edelman, 1987; Glenberg, 1997; Pfeifer & Scheier, 1999). What is the natural way in which an agent interacting with the world can gradually acquire cognition? We propose to follow a bottom-up and developmental path­way. Rather than starting from representations of objects or the world around the agent, we propose to start representing the very basis: the agent's body and its low-level interaction with the environment. An example of such a developmental pathway in a quadruped robot is provided in Hoffmann, 2014. In other words, as we have argued, any cognitive processing will always be mediated by the body and the sensory-motor loops. Therefore, these are the first candidates for an agent to learn about. We will proceed as follows: First, we will investigate these minimalistic representations: the concepts of body schema and forward models. Second, we will explain why they provide a link to cognition. Third and last, we will look at how cognitive development can be realized in a humanoid robot: the iCub.


*This section has been adapted from Hoffmann & Pfeifer, 2011.


Edelman, G. E. (1987), Neural Darwinism. The theory of neuronal group selection., New York: Basic Books.

Glenberg, A. M. (1997), 'What memory is for?', Behavioral and Brain Sciences 20, 1-56.

Hoffmann, M. (2014), Minimally Cognitive Robotics: Body Schema, Forward Models, and Sensorimotor Contingencies in a Quadruped Machine, in A. Martin & M. Bishop, ed., 'Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory', SAPERE series, Springer, pp. 209-233.

Hoffmann, M. & Pfeifer, R. (2011), The implications of embodiment for behavior and cognition: animal and robotic case studies, in W. Tschacher & C. Bergomi, ed., 'The Implications of Embodiment: Cognition and Communication', Exeter: Imprint Academic, pp. 31-58.
Pfeifer, R. & Scheier, C. (1999), Understanding Intelligence, MIT Press.