5 Mar 2013

Andy Clark. Ch1.Pt2 Supersizing the Mind “A Walk on the Wild Side”

summary by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]
[Central Entry Directory]
[Posthumanism Entry Directory]

[Andy Clark, Entry Directory]
[Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind, entry directory]

[My own commentary is in brackets. All boldface and underlining is my own. Extra spacing between paragraphs follow the paragraph divisions in the original text.]

Andy Clark

Supersizing the Mind:

Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension

The Active Body

Part 1.2
Inhabited Interaction

Brief Summary:
Inhabiting our body means for it to become transparent to us in our mindful interactions with the world.


Previously Clark discussed how robots are more efficient and natural when they are designed in a way that makes use of available environmental influences. One of his examples was the Toddler robot, which is

a walking robot that learns (using so-called actor-critic reinforcement learning) a control policy that exploits the passive dynamics of the body (fig. 1.5). The Toddler robot, which features among the pack of passive-dynamics- based robots described in Collins et al. (2005), can learn to change speeds, go forward and backward, and adapt on the go to different terrains, including bricks, wooden tiles, carpet, and even a variable speed treadmill. And as you’d expect, the use of passive dynamics | cuts power consumption to about one-tenth that of a standard robot like Asimo. (8-9)

(from page 8. fig 1.5, The Toddler robot, by Russ Tedrake, Teresa Zhang, and H. Sebastian Seung, photo by Zhang)

The Toddler robot is unlike Asimo, considered the world’s most advanced humanoid robot. It does not use passive dynamics like the Toddler robot does, and for that reason it is much less energy efficient.

(from page 4)

Now in this section Clark examines what it might be like to be each kind of robot. Being the Toddler robot would mean feeling more connected to our body and with the world we interact with; we would have more ‘inhabited interaction’

Let’s switch gears, briefly, to ask what it might be like to be an agent embodied according to these very different sets of principles. What would it feel like to be an intelligent, conscious version of Asimo and, contrariwise, to be an intelligent, conscious version of a fully trained Toddler robot In the latter case, might it not feel (all other things being equal) as if, with little effort and a simple act of will, directed bodily motion is achieved? In the former, the efforts are large and the body may perhaps be encountered as a complex, resistant object in need of much ongoing energetic micromanagement. Over time, perhaps, control can be streamlined, though energy consumption (as in the case of the helicopter) will still remain high. Nonetheless, the successful exploitation of passive-dynamic effects may well be a major contributing element to what Dourish (2001) nicely calls “inhabited interaction,” a way of being in the world that is contrasted with “disconnected control.” Here is how Dourish describes the difference, using present-day (i.e., still fairly clunky) virtual-reality systems as a point of comparison:

Even in an immersive virtual-reality environment, users are disconnected observers of a world they do not inhabit directly. They peer out at it, figure out what’s going on, decide on some course of action, and enact it through the narrow interface of the keyboard or the data-glove, carefully monitoring the result to see if it turns out the way they expected. Our experience in the everyday world is not of that sort. There is no homunculus sitting inside our heads, staring out at the world through our eyes, enacting some plan of action by manipulating our hands, | and checking carefully to make sure we don’t overshoot when reaching for the coffee cup. We inhabit our bodies and they in turn inhabit the world, with seamless connections back and forth. (2001, 102) ) [11|12]

Clark suggests that immersive virtual reality might be disconnected only because current technology is not advanced enough.

Yet Clark notes that children might begin experiencing their body in a disconnected way before getting used to its manners of motion.

It is worth noticing, however, that to the young human infant, the physical body itself may often share some of this problematic character. The infant, like the VR-exploring adult, must learn how to use initially unresponsive hands, arms, and legs to obtain its goals (for some detailed studies, see Thelen and Smith 1994). In so doing, the infant, like the Toddler robot, learns to make the most of the complex evolved morphology and passive dynamics of its own body. These have been selected so as to dramatically reduce the “gap” that needs to be bridged by the addition of energy and the imposition of control. [10b]

After the child gets used to how its body works and interacts with the world, its body becomes ‘transparent equipment’ [Clark discusses this in Natural Born Cyborgs as well.]

With time and practice, enough bodily fluency is achieved to make the wider world itself directly available as a kind of unmediated arena for embodied action. At this point, the extrabodily world becomes poised to present itself to the user not just as a problem space (though it is clearly that) but also as a problem-solving resource. For (as we’ll see in more detail in chap. 2–4) the world, especially when encountered via inhabited interaction, is a place in which we can act fluently in ways that simplify or transform the problems that we want to solve. At such moments, the body has become “transparent equipment” (Heidegger 1927/1961): equipment (the classic example is the hammer in the hands of the skilled carpenter) that is not the focus of attention in use. Instead, the user “sees through” the equipment to the task in hand. When you sign your name, the pen is not normally your focus (unless it is out of ink etc.). The pen in use is no more the focus of your attention than is the hand that grips it. Both are transparent equipment. (10c.d)

Clark notes that heavy use of passive-dynamics might not be the only way to obtain transparency, but the way evolved agents inhabit rather than merely control their bodies “may be usefully understood in terms of a profound fit between morphology and control. The kind of fit is exhibited by the wild walking systems devised by biological evolution and, in compelling microcosm, by autonomous, passive-dynamics-based walking robots.” (11c)

Andy Clark. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

No comments:

Post a Comment