Tutorial on Embodiment

5. Embodied Cognition


Thus far in this tutorial, we have concentrated on tasks such as locomotion, grasping, or simple visual perception. We have demonstrated that successful mastery of such tasks can be achieved without sophisticated cognitive processing if body dynamics and interaction with the environment is exploited. Although this research is interesting in itself, it seems that these tasks are too low-level and detached from processes that we would call cognitive. At least, this would be the view of traditional artificial intelligence and cognitive science. In this section we will advocate the contrary: the lower levels - the embodiment of any particular agent and its embedding in the environment - have a constitutive role in cognition.

Moreover, we will adopt a developmental perspective. This can be summarized by the thesis that was put forth at 2nd EU Cognition Members Conference in Zurich: "Cognition emerges during development in a close interplay of experience, of the social and physical environment and of the neuronal mechanisms of growth. An understanding of cognition cannot be achieved without an understanding of the development of cognition. It is thus a necessity for artificial cognitive systems to take development on board."

Fig. 5.1. Schematic illustration of the developmental pathway: from interaction with the environment to higher-level cognition. (Composed of cartoons by S. Iwasawa from Pfeifer & Bongard: How the body shapes the way we think, 2007)