Tutorial on Embodiment

1. Introduction


In order to understand intelligent behavior in humans, animals, or machines, it is necessary to consider their embodiment and embedding. That is, "the behavior of any system is not merely the outcome of an internal control structure (such as the central nervous system). A system's behavior is also affected by the ecological niche in which the system is physically embedded, by its morphology (the shape of its body and limbs, as well as the type and placement of sensors and effectors), and by the material properties of the elements composing the morphology." (Pfeifer et al. 2007) Whereas embodiment is often used in its trivial meaning, i.e. "intelligence requires a body", we want to argue that there are deeper implications that are worth analyzing in detail. After elucidating the crucial importance of embodiment for "low-level" behaviors (such as walking), we will move on to illustrate the impact of physical processes on informational processes, and, finally, we will discuss the implications of embodiment for cognition.

There is a number of introductory texts available on the topic, e.g. Pfeifer and Scheier (1999) or Pfeifer and Bongard (2007). We highly recommend these to the reader and will will also reuse some of the material as we proceed. However, we feel that this online tutorial can become a useful complementary resource, since it can exploit the possibilities that an online medium offers: Apart from references to literature, we have included numerous pictures and schematics, videos, links to online lectures, and exercises.


Pfeifer, R. & Bongard, J. C. (2007), How the body shapes the way we think: a new view of intelligence, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Pfeifer, R.; Lungarella, M. & Iida, F. (2007), 'Self-organization, embodiment, and biologically inspired robotics', Science 318, 1088-1093.
Pfeifer, R. & Scheier, C. (1999), Understanding Intelligence, MIT Press.