Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Robotics thought experiment framework

I recently posted a couple of links to robots doing tai chi (Hubo and QRIO). I find this concept really interesting, as it might well provide the ideal framework to discuss the principles of the internal arts within a scientific context.

So what does it really mean for robot to do tai chi? I can think of four possible perspectives off the top of my head:
  • First of all, tai chi (or the other internal arts) would perform an ideal benchmarking test case for the mechanical abilities of a robot. The whole body coordination and complexities of balance ensure that to perform a tai chi form properly would be exceptionally challenging.
  • Secondly do the principles of the internal arts have any meaning outside of the context of a human body? In other words, can internal arts principles be applied to non-humans (e.g. animals)? Taking this a bit further, given that we can construct robots that are humanoid in form, can they use internal arts principles? What are the minimal degrees of freedom that are required of these robots to be able to exploit or perform the internal arts? It should be noted that this context is different to just pre-programming a sequence of movements (that does not require any thought or reactivity), but rather the dynamic utilisation of the principles as behaviours or reflexes. In CGI simulation terms this is already possible as the troublesome robtictics hardware can be bypassed. GCI agents (i.e. simulated robots) can already be endowed with a set of behaviours which result in realistic movements and actions, for example natural motion. I don't see any reason why they couldn't do tai chi.

  • Thirdly what does it mean to meditate or concentrate in robotics? After all, in many ways a computer could be considered an ideal meditator as it is able to "empty its mind" and just revert to something like the system idle process. Perhaps this is a null point.
  • Fourthly, if we consider the thought experiment whereby we have a robot that is a perfect anatomical match for a human (in terms of joint and muscle structure), what are the software algorithms it needs in order for it to be able to perform tai chi? This raises an interesting question: would it be possible to program this robot to perform the internal arts from a purely biomechanical perspective? If the answer to this is yes, then this would prove that there is no such thing as chi, as it is not a necessary component of the system. If however it was impossible to program the humanoid robot using only biomechanics, then this by contrast would prove the existence of chi, as an actual tangible property rather than as an abstract visualisation/model of the world.

With regard to the last point, the thought that immediately occurs to me is to wonder whether chi is actually an analogy (and opposite) to pain? When you experience pain, it is the body's way of telling you that things are incorrectly aligned/not performing their correct function. When you experience chi, it is the body's way of telling you that things are performing optimally. The more chi you experience, the more optimally your body is functioning.

Clearly this robotic framework throws up a huge number of questions, so thinking caps on to explore this a bit further....

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