Publication 4520

Ziemke T. (1997) The “environmental puppeteer” revisited: A connectionist perspective on “autonomy.” In: Birk A. In: Demiris J. (ed.) Proceedings of the 6th European Workshop on Learning Robots. Springer, New York: 100–110. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/4520
Today’s “autonomous” robots only have very limited autonomy and are in fact very much under the control of the “environmental puppeteer”, i.e their behaviour is determined, via virtual strings, by environmental conditions. Hence, it has been stated as the goal of modern scientific robotics to “cut the strings and give the robot its autonomy”. Different notions of autonomy in artefacts and living systems are examined in this paper, and different aspects/dimensions of autonomy are identified and illustrated with examples from connectionist robot control. A connectionist architecture is introduced that aims to increase robotic autonomy through integration of connectionist self-organisation/learning with the enactive view of structural coupling between environment and agent. In the resulting robot control architecture it is the environment that is pulling the strings, but the agent that develops them and dynamically decides which of them to use in a particular situation. Hence, the notion of autonomy advocated here is not “independence of environment” (a “freedom” most artefacts have), but rather an agent’s capacity to actively embed itself in its environment and flexibly utilize it as a resource.

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