Artificial Bodies in Motion: From Top-down Control to Relational Embeddedness
When artificial intelligence is embodied in mobile robots, the awesome computational power of symbolic manipulation proves to be almost helpless in figuring out how to cross a room. Starting in the 1980s, Rodney Brooks of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab began proposing another method that he called “subsumption architecture.” Rather than computing everything from a top-down model, this method uses “the world as its own best model,” relying on the robot’s embeddedness in a real world to figure out how to navigate. This method has since been expanded to meet another daunting challenge, how to create a robot that would have a stable, robust gait. MIT Gait Lab developed an approach that, rather than programming all the legs together, had each leg figure out how to stabilize itself in its environment, which includes the other legs as well as the terrain. Robotics company Boston Dynamics has since adapted this method with great success for a wide variety of robot bodies, from dog-like quadrupeds to counter-weighted box-stacking mobile robots. These artificial bodies in motion have important implications for three-dimensional mobile objects in general, including sculptures. However, in the spirit of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, we may consider the robots themselves as mobile sculptures. As such, they open a portal onto ecological relations that have the potential to provide a new, more sustainable, and more just philosophical basis for human personhood than neoliberal market assumptions.
About N. Katherine Hayles
N. Katherine Hayles is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the James B. Duke Professor Emerita from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Her 11 print books include “Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious” (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and “How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis” (University of Chicago Press, 2015), in addition to over 100 peer-reviewed articles. Her books have won several prizes, and she has been recognized by many fellowships and awards, including two honorary degrees. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is currently at work on “Technosymbiosis: Futures of the Human,” under contract to Columbia University Press.