Section: Overall Objectives
Can a robot learn like a child? Can it learn new skills and new knowledge in an unknown and changing environment? How can it discover its body and its relationships with the physical and social environment? How can its cognitive capacities continuously develop without the intervention of an engineer? What can it learn through natural social interactions with humans?
These are the questions that are investigated in the FLOWERS research team at INRIA Bordeaux Sud-Ouest. Rather than trying to imitate the intelligence of adult humans like in the field of Artificial Intelligence, we believe that trying to reconstruct the processes of development of the child's mind will allow for more adaptive, more robust and more versatile machines. This approach is called developmental robotics, or epigenetic robotics, and imports concepts and theories from developmental psychology. As most of these theories are not formalized, this implies a crucial computational modeling activity, which in return provides means to assess the internal coherence of theories and sketch new hypothesis about the development of the human child's sensorimotor and cognitive abilities.
Among the developmental principles that characterize human infants and can be used in developmental robots, FLOWERS focuses on the following three principles:
Exploration is progressive. The space of skills that can be learnt in real world sensorimotor spaces is so large and complicated that not everything can be learnt at the same time. Simple skills are learnt first, and only when they are mastered, new skills of progressively increasing difficulty become the behavioural focus;
Internal representations are (partially) not innate but learnt and adaptive. For example, the body map, the distinction self/non-self and the concept of “object” are discovered through experience with initially uninterpreted sensors and actuators;
Exploration can be self-guided and/or socially guided. On the one hand, internal and intrinsic motivation systems regulate and organize spontaneous exploration; on the other hand, exploration can be guided through social learning and interaction with caretakers.
The work of FLOWERS is organized around the following three axis:
Intrinsically motivated exploration and learning: intrinsic motivation are mechanisms that have been identified by developmental psychologists to explain important forms of spontaneous exploration and curiosity. In FLOWERS, we try to develop computational intrinsic motivation systems and test them on robots, allowing to regulate the growth of complexity in exploratory behaviours. These mechanisms are also studied as active learning mechanisms, allowing to learn efficiently in large inhomogeneous sensorimotor spaces;
Natural and intuitive social learning: FLOWERS develops interaction frameworks and learning mechanisms allowing non-engineer humans to teach a robot naturally. This involves two sub-themes: 1) techniques allowing for natural and intuitive human-robot interaction, including simple ergonomic interfaces for establishing joint attention; 2) learning mechanisms that allow the robot to use the guidance hints provided by the human to teach new skills;
Discovering and abstracting the structure of sets of uninterpreted sensors and motors: FLOWERS studies mechanisms that allow a robot to infer structural information out of sets of sensorimotor channels whose semantics is unknown, such as for example the topology of the body and the sensorimotor contingencies (propriocetive, visual and acoustic).
These three research axis are applied to the learning of two kinds of skills: basic sensorimotor skills and basic socio-linguistic skills (bootstrapping and learning of the first words).