Olivier Georgeon's research blog—also known as the story of little Ernest, the developmental agent.

Keywords: situated cognition, constructivist learning, intrinsic motivation, bottom-up self-programming, individuation, theory of enaction, developmental learning, artificial sense-making, biologically inspired cognitive architectures, agnostic agents (without ontological assumptions about the environment).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ernest 10.0 has a somatotopic map

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Ernest 10.0 is a shark. Sharks are archaic vertebrates whose brain didn't evolve much over the last 450 million years or so. Yet, a shark's brain contains the same set of basic anatomical components as modern vertebrates' brains (Brain, Wikipdia).

In particular, Ernest 10.0 has a somatotopic map—a brain area that represents Ernest's body in an isomorphic way. In humans, this area would correspond to the postcentral gyrus, also known as the primary somatosensory cortex.

In this video, Ernest's somatotopic map is represented as a grayscale grid over Ernest's body. This grid has 9 cells that represent what Ernest touches in the 8 surrounding squares plus the square where he is standing.

Each cell in the somatotopic map can reflect three different kinds of tactile feelings:
- light gray: only water.
- medium gray: something soft, an alga or a fish that Ernest can swim over.
- black: something hard, a wall or the aquarium's side (the central cell is never black because Ernest cannot stand on a wall).

We hypothesize that the somatotopic map will be useful for acquiring a sense of space, although we don't yet know exactly how. We drew this hypothesis from the idea that our sense of space comes from the mere fact that our body occupies space. We, however, could not find much arguments in the literature to support this hypothesis.

Apart from his still-unexploited somatotopic map, and from the fact that he is always hungry for fish, Ernest 10.0 is the same as poor Ernest 9.3. This video shows how miserable he is. He has no sense of space and he is even unable to "simplify" a sequence consisting or turning six times 45° clockwise into a sequence consisting of turning twice 45° counterclockwise (see steps 267 or 279).

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