Monday, 13 September 2010

day 8-9: Here Come the Salsa Robots

[caption id="attachment_307" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Señor Coconut"]Señor Coconut[/caption]

I was on a break for the weekend
Went to a great party
Heard some great stories
Some ugly ones too

Hey, I may have told some as well

But we danced to Señor Coconut y Su Conjunto’s interpretation of Kraftwerk’s “The Robots”

El Baile Aleman means: “The German Dance”
They cover a lot of Kraftwerk songs on this one
Salsa version of course... so Sheik Yerbouti!

I don't know much about dancin' [..]
One of my legs is shorter than the other
'N both my feet's too long
'Course now right along with 'em
I got no natural rhythm

Interesting, I don't know if it is true but:
Romance languages call anything German: Al(l)eman (add some diacritics depending on the language), so do the Turks and in fact all arabic languages. In English it’s: German, in Baltic languages and Finnish it’s: Saksa, in Dutch and other Germanic languages, it’s, Deutsch / Duits / Dutsk (Frisian) / Tusk (Norwegian, Swedish), etc.

Now, in the days of the Roman Empire, there were the provinces of Germania (Inferior and Superior). So why did this turn into Allemania for all of southern Europe? The Allemannen were a Germanic tribe. They were pretty annoying for the Romans and eventually stopped the progress of the Roman Empire and conquered the Germanic provinces. So the Romans in a way were “defeated” by the Allemannen and so you name that country after that tribe, logical. For the Baltics this also holds becuse the Saxons, that other Germanic tribe were the bad guys. The Roman province of Britannia, after the fall of the Empire, was conquered by yet some other Germanic tribes (the Angles and the Saxons, hence Anglo-Saxon). So you name your language after the ones who “defeat” you.

Now, France was conquered by the Franks, yet, yet another Germanic tribe. Those guys lived in the lower Rhine delta and around the “Zuyder Zee”, yep the Dutch and Flemish... (Not the Frisians, they held their own territory for a while and had some influence on the English language later on). The Franks went on to become the Merovingian Dynasty, but that is another story that centers around the French region of Orange and the date of the 30th of April (or is it just a coincidence this date is our Koninginnedag?).

So the Franken, Allemannen and Angles and Saxons all spoke kind of the same language. It was called the language of the people and “diutisc” means “of the people” (zum Volk gehörig) in althochdeutsch. Very consistent people, Volkswagen expresses the same idea. But also, Alle Mannen of course means All Men. And then some monks fled to the New World and that’s why the language “Nederlands” is “Dutch” in English (Could this be one of the first American English influences on British English?).

But I digress, back to the robots.

Sometimes you read a scientific paper that really stuns, amazes, infuriates, or inspires you...
Sometimes you read a paper that appears to have been sent backwards in time from a distant future...

After I first came across this paper I immediately integrated it into a course I taught (now cancelled due to budget cuts), in which I predicted that soon engineers and technicians would know more about human development, human cognition, human emotion and well, basically everything psychology claims to study than psychologists would.

The reason: engineers and roboticists have long abandoned the idea that the human brain is something like a machine of the computer kind. So have I, so have philosophers of cognitive science, so have the ecological psychologists, but not mainstream psychology, behavioural science or cognitive science. Even the past proponents of the information processing approach admit it was a mistake to think that just increasing computation speed and storage of information would eventually lead to artificial intelligence. It does not, and if it ever will, it will not be an intelligence we will recognize as such.

I used to play a really cool roleplaying game hosted by my brother when I was young called TORG: the possibility wars. Situated in the Near Now, the background was that there were different Cosms or realities invading the Earth to obtain something called possibility energy. If successful they would impose their Axioms and Cosm Laws upon Earth’s reality, or Core Earth (f.i. Magic is possible). North America turned into The Living Lands (stone-age with dinosaurs), South-East Asia into Orrorsh (Horror genre), Egypt into The Nile Empire (Superhero / 1930s pulp genre), France into the Cyberpapacy (Cyber Punk genre), Great Britain / Scandinavia into Aysle (Fantasy genre) and more... Very noticeable changes for the inhabitants of those regions of course. Except for one region: Japan. Japan was invaded by the Nippon Tech cosm (Japanese SF genre). To the Japanese it just seemed that technological advances were happening more quickly than in the rest of the world. Nothing special.

Well, there may be some truth to that... just watch the video below:

The cool thing is: These roboticists build their robots based on the theories of J.J. Gibson’s ecological psychology and direct perception and affordances, on embodied embedded cognition and on a view of development from a the perspective of Complexity Science (i.e. dynamics of complex systems), all stuff that is NOT, I repeat NOT being taught at schools of psychology. I tried.

What is important to remember is that there is no “pre-programming” of movements. They are all “learned” through perception and action. They even have simulations of fetal and movements in the womb and neonatal movements after birth, where they observe “self-touching” behaviour and very eerie realistic “uncontrolled” goal directed behaviour emerge from out of nowhere. The main reason why I think they are successful is that it is scary! It looks like there is someone inside that suit! Well, there isn’t and what it actually does in terms of movements is not pre-programmed as an algorithm but has developed... much like this cockroach robot that doesn’t have a brain at all (ok a two neuron brain).

On the site of the Asada Project we can read a clear vision of what future research should focus on:

“The 21st century is known as the "Century of the Brain" and will be an era of robot habitation with humans [...] It is important for life sciences in the 21st century to regard the brain as a complete system, and to clarify how brains realize function through interactions with the external world based on its dynamics.”

That is exactly what I (want to) do!
It is kind of sad though, that this was also exactly what many great minds since the 60s have wanted to do, but never got the chance and were and are even now ridiculed or just ignored for proposing such ideas...

Well, guess again,

the Near Now... is Now

I’m sure they will eventually be able to Salsa-dance as well

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