Mind, Body, Environment: An Interactive Seminar on Embodied Intelligence
Embodied Intelligence is a research area that challenges conventional views of cognition / intelligence as isolated information processing in the brain. This interactive seminar will introduce students to key theories and research highlighting this shift in perspective. The course aims to encourage discourse among students, while exposing them to experts in the field. Other than this, the course also aims to strengthen a student’s literature research skills, and equip them to write academic papers and present complex subjects in oral presentations.
In person (hybrid only for speaker, if they opt for online presentation)
All students in the SCIoI Master Track(s) (depending on the logistics and actual registered participants, other SCIoI PhD students, SCIoI postdocs, and other SCIoI members, in that order of preference, will be allowed to audit the course.) Although the course is somewhat oriented towards synthetic intelligence, applying students must only possess interest in intelligence research (expected from all Master Track students). That is, no specific background knowledge is required. This is a low-threshold opportunity for the students to engage in a wide range of actively researched topics, which they could potentially pursue in a doctorate at SCIoI.
The introductory 2 weeks of the course will be dedicated to aligning students to the basic skills necessary for the course viz., how to do literature research, how to present and debate. During this time, the students will also choose one theme from below for their focus (topic for debate).
The following 12 weeks will cover the 6 themes – 1 theme across 2 weeks. For each theme, an expert in the field will be invited for a talk (and discussion). After the talk, students will also have the opportunity to meet the invitee in an informal/social session (if the invitee is open to it). In the following week, students will reflect on the talk/discussion and the theme through a moderated debate, and prepare for the next theme.
The debate is conducted to actively engage the students in the course, where they would need to find relevant literature, listen and engage with the invited speaker and organize their learnings into succinct arguments. The debates will take on the style of Oxford-style debates. A portion of students’ grades will depend on their active participation in an intellectual exchange (and not the win/lose outcome of the debate.)
At the end of the course, students should also submit a 3-6 page report written in a conference publication format, that outlines the discussed themes and detail their learnings from their assigned focus (irrespective of the side they took in the debate).
- The Essentials
This part will provide an introduction to the key concepts, historical foundations, and modern theories related to embodied intelligence. It will explore what it means for intelligence to be embodied and situated, and contrast this with classical AI. (This theme might also need to be supplemented in addition to the invited talk.)
- Potential speakers: Josh Bongard, Bill Warren
- Example debate topic: Embodiment is necessary for understanding intelligence
- Morphological Computation
This part looks at how an agent’s physical body and environment can facilitate and constrain behavior, with some case studies of robots leveraging their morphological properties (e.g. RBO Hand).
- Potential speakers: Hod Lipson, Helmut Hauser, Thrishantha Nanayakkara
- Example debate topic: Morphological computation offloads information processing to the body
- Interactive Perception
This theme focuses on sensory-motor coordination and how action and perception are closely intertwined. It will include active perception, sensorimotor contingencies, and enactive approaches that emphasize the role of embodied interaction in perception.
- Potential speakers: Cornelia Fermüller (confirmed interest), Jeannette Bohg, Roberto Martín-Martín
- Example debate topic: Perception is simplified by certain actions
This theme explores how insights from neuroscience and biology can inform embodied artificial intelligence. This includes brain-inspired (neuromorphic) computing, bio-inspired robotics, and using animals as model systems to study embodied intelligence principles.
- Potential speakers: Guide de Croon, Tony Prescott, Volker Dürr
- Example debate topic: Only bio-inspiration can drive innovation in Embodied Intelligence applications
- Collective Intelligence
In studying collectives, embodiment is a key factor. This theme explores how intelligence can arise from the interactions of multiple agents, and its potential applications in multi-agent coordination and collective problem solving.
- Potential speakers: Iain Couzin, Michael Levin, Sabine Hauert
- Example debate topic: The body plays a larger role than cognition in emergent collective behaviour
- Cognition and Philosophy
The final theme explores philosophical perspectives on cognition, focusing on embodied and situated views of mind. It examines how physical embodiment shapes thinking and reasoning by drawing on traditions like phenomenology, pragmatism, and existentialism.
- Potential speakers: Alva Nöe / JK O’Regan, Lisa Miracchi Titus
- Example debate topic: The mind cannot be separated from the living body
Above is a tentative list, presented to give a rough view into the potential course content. The list of themes is subject to change depending on the speakers who will agree to come. As the teaching will be done in SoSe 2025, there will be sufficient preparation time.
Side note: This course is inspired from the “Robotics: Current Topics” seminar, where a similar Oxford-style debate is carried out. Students in this course generally find it a great experience to have gone through such an interactive seminar.