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Developmental Robots (2)
Researchers are struggling to make intelligent machines that can learn on their own. Do we really need intelligent computers that may become superior to biological systems?

By Denis Susac


Apart from the hardware configuration, the most interesting aspect of the Sail's architecture is the control algorithm and the philosophy behind it. According to this paradigm, real-world problems are beyond predefined representations and hand programming. Robots should be designed to go through a full, autonomous mental development process motivated by human cognitive and behavioral development, from infancy to adulthood. Essentially, the key to success is to enable robots to autonomously live in our environments and to become "smart" on their own, although some degree of human supervision is always required. In Sail's case, this means that it is allowed to explore the world for itself, accompanied with the human supervisor that reinforces and modifies behavior patterns by pressing "good" or "bad" buttons. In author's own words, "... AI tasks require capabilities which have proved to be too muddy to program effectively. Although a developmental algorithm is by no means simple, the new developmental approach does not require human programmers to understand the domain of tasks nor to predict them. Therefore, this approach does not only drastically reduce the programming burden, but also enables machines to develop capabilities or skills that the programmer does not have or are too muddy to be adequately understood by the programmer. "

More technical details about this project can be found at the main Sail page. You'll even find the code in Visual C++ and detailed information on all aspects of robot programming and control. Bit it is by no means the only learning robot out there. Sony's AIBO also employs a sort of developmental learning, but on the much more primitive level. An interesting list of robot learning Web sites will provide you with an excellent introduction to this field and pointers for the further research.

One of the most brilliant minds in this field, Marvin Minsky, dismissed fears about AI in his famous article for the Scientific American magazine, "Will Robots Inherit the Earth". "Yes, but they will be our children" is the answer: he is more concerned with the fact that there are only around 10 "significant" people in the world who are tackling the "hard" problems of AI. Read more about his views and ideas, including early drafts of his forthcoming book, at his site. You can also talk about intelligent robots or any other AI-related topic at


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