Publication 4523

Ziemke T. & Sharkey N. E. (2001) A stroll through the worlds of robots and animals. Semiotica 134(1–4): 701–746. Fulltext at
Excerpt: Much research in cognitive science, and in particular artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial life (ALife), has since the mid-1980s been devoted to the study of so-called autonomous agents. These are typically robotic systems situated in some environment and interacting with it using sensors and motors. Such systems are often self-organizing in the sense that they artificially learn, develop, and evolve in interaction with their environments, typically using computational learning techniques, such as artificial neural networks or evolutionary algorithms. Due to the biological inspiration and motivation underlying much of this research (cf. Sharkey and Ziemke 1998), autonomous agents are often referred to as “artificial organisms”, “artificial life”, “animats” (short for “artificial animals”) (Wilson 1985), “creatures” (Brooks 1990), or “biorobots” (Ziemke and Sharkey 1998). These terms do not necessarily all mean exactly the same; some of them refer to physical robots only, whereas others include simple software simulations. But the terms all express the view that the mechanisms referred to are substantially different from conventional artifacts and that to some degree they are “life-like” in that they share some of the properties of living organisms. Throughout this article this class of systems will be referred to as “artificial organisms” or “autonomous agents/robots” interchangeably. \\The key issue addressed in this article concerns the semiotic status and relevance of such artificial organisms. The question is whether and to what extent they are autonomous and capable of semiosis. This is not straightforward since semiosis is often considered to necessarily involve living organisms. Morris (1946), for example, defines semiosis as “a signprocess, that is, a process in which something is a sign to some organism”. Similarly, Jakob von Uexküll considered signs to be “of prime importance in all aspects of life processes” (T. von Uexküll 1992), and made a clear distinction between organisms, which as autonomous subjects respond to signs according to their own specific energy, and inorganic mechanisms, which lack that energy, and thus remain heteronomous.

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