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More Asimo!

November 13, 2010

Here’s another video of the robot Asimo performing visual cognition.  It’s not as detailed as the previous video I posted a week or two ago, but it shows Asimo doing object identification and very basic thinking about an object’s properties.  You can see that it even saw similarities between the “toy car” and the “mini cooper” but also knew they weren’t the same thing.

As the host of this video points out, there’s more to vision than simply seeing.  In fact, over 50% of our brain’s cortex is devoted to visual processing alone!  The vast majority of our intelligence is our visual cognition capabilities.  To quote from a book of mine, Basic Vision: an introduction to visual perception,

“… over 50% of the cortex is involved in visual processing.   Recently we have begun to be able to chart what areas of the human brain might be involved in visual processing.  You might imagine that it would be far less — after all, we humans presumably need lots of brain for doing the things we think we do so well: reasoning, playing chess, doing hard sums, and so on.  However, it appears that the amount of cortex we devote to vision is just as large as in this monkey — over half your cortex is devoted to merely seeing.  If we do some very rough sums and generously give hearing 10% of the cortex, all your other senses another 10%, and probably we should allow 10-20% for moving all the bits of your body, you can see that there is hardly anything left over for doing the hard bits like chess, cross-words, and perception assignments.  But that is exactly the point.  Vision is easy because we have lots of brain devoted to it; chess is hard because we don’t have lots of brain devoted to it.  If the situation were reversed and over 50% of your cortex were devoted to chess you would, no doubt, be able to take on the most sophisticated computer in the world and beat it.  However, computers can now beat the most brilliant of humans when it comes to chess, but no computer in the world can put up the slightest of challenges when it comes to vision.  Indeed, we would happily back a humble housefly against the most sophisticated computer in ‘vision Olympics’.

If I can find the time, I’m going to finish up my post on topographical disorientations, and then maybe write a post on visual object identification.  For now, enjoy watching Asimo!

And here’s a commercial which I liked a lot.  I particularly like it when Asimo views himself on the monitor.

I do love robots, but this sort of research is more than robotics to me – it’s about understanding what I am.  It’s a form of self-discovery.  When you understand who and what you are, you’re able to create things such as robots which can do everything you can do.  When you can’t create a being in your own image, it’s because you don’t understand who or what you really are.

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the brain and they said, “Yeah, if we only knew how to utilize our brain’s full potential, think of what we could do.  We only use like 10% of our brain.  Think if we learned how to master the other 90%”.  This is a very common misconception which simply isn’t true.  We’re always utilizing our brains.  The vast majority of our brains process the information coming from our sensory systems and give us an awareness of the world.  Very little of it is devoted to memory and reasoning.  That’s why we find school and mathematics so difficult, yet we can control our bodies and navigate the world with incredible ease — and that’s FAR more complicated than what most of us will ever learn in school.

Physicists are often characterized as these eccentric scientists writing down math equations on a chalkboard, but to me, physics is about looking beyond yourself and out into the universe, seeing what it is and making it a part of you.  Once you understand the universe, in a sense, you become one with it.  Just as you can create a robot which can do what you can do if you understand the workings of your brain, if you understand the “mind” of our universe, you can also create  a universe of your own, to your every specification.  To understand ourselves, to understand the universe, and the task of building a better world are all different ways of saying the same thing.

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