Friends Reunited?

Evolutionary Robotics and Representational Explanation

Michael Wheeler
Department of Philosophy
University of Stirling
Stirling, FK9 4LA, Scotland, U.K.

Citation: M. Wheeler[2005]. Artificial Life. Vol. 11, Issues 1-2, pp. 215 - 232 - Winter-Spring 2005. Special Issue on Embodied and Situated Cognition. Preprint available in pdf format.

Abstract: Robotics as practiced within the artificial life community is no longer the bitter enemy of representational explanation in the way that it sometimes seemed to be in the heady, revolutionary days of the 1990s. This rapprochement is, however, fragile, because the field of evolutionary robotics continues to pose two important challenges to the idea that real-time intelligent action must or should be explained by appeal to inner representations. The first of these challenges, the threat from nontrivial causal spread, occurs when extra-neural factors account for the kind of adaptive richness and flexibility normally associated with representation-based control. The second, the threat from continuous reciprocal causation, occurs when the causal contributions made by the systemic components collectively responsible for behavior generation are massively context-sensitive and variable over time. I argue that while the threat from nontrivial causal spread can be resisted, the threat from continuous reciprocal causation provides a stern test for our representational intuitions.

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Last Modified: May 27, 2005