Friday, January 30, 2004

Integrating the Physical and Computational Worlds

An agent is an abstract computer science term that means a black-box that takes a set of percepts from the environment, perfrom some "computation", and exerts a set of actions on that environment. This is an useful concept to talk about AI-like entities or just about anything (even non-AI things) in an useful theoretical framework.

Embodiment is when an agent resides inside a body of some kind within an environment. This means that the agent is part of the environment and has the restrictions and perspectives imparted by that body. Not all agents are embodied.

A robot is an example of a physically embodied agent, i.e. it does not live in a simulated world. However, we have now stepped over a line and have left the world of pure computer science, creeping into the difficult and unpleasant world of mechanics, dynamics, frictions, electronics, gases, other embodied agents, societies, uncertainty, noise, and risk.

I believe that in order to truly understand how one can live and act within a world, we need a truly integrative approach to the physical world and the transportation and processing of information. Simply calling this work "interdisciplinary" is just a marketing term that does not convey the full revolution I am proposing.

Animals and human beings have achieved a careful and articulate equilibrium between processing information and interacting with the world with naturally-formed mechanical bodies gradually created over millions of years of evolution. To understand not the details of the parts of humans and animals, but the general underlying principles of living and surviving in the world to accomplish tasks, we must derive a general theory that closely couples a theory of information with a theory of the physical world.

This might lead some of you into fuzzy philosophical questions, which I will not address here. However, one that I believe that may be answered as we continue our work is the following:

What is information? What is computation?

How are these questions related? Are they the same? What vocabularly are we missing?

I don't claim to know the answer to these questions, but I hope that as we proceed to stack the building blocks of our theory, we may gradually achieve a glimpse of these notions.


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