Thursday, October 31, 2013

Common Currencies - PSSA abstract

So I have the extreme good fortune to be working on a paper with Prof. David Spurrett on a paper for next year's Philosophical Society of South Africa's annual conference. It's a small piece of a much longer and larger project on how unified motivation is (Prof Spurrett is documenting this project over at his common currencies blog).

Without further ado, here is the abstract - the content isn't entirely fixed just yet, but this is a reasonable outline of what we're trying to achieve.

Distributed control systems and order in action selection.

Blaize Kaye and David Spurrett (UKZN)


There is a commonly held view in the cognitive and behavioural sciences that orderly action selection is best explained by the existence of a determinate psychological system that represents potential or actual outcomes of action along a single dimension of value.

In this paper, we begin by sketching a general version of the argument for a “common currency” for decision making after which we present a potential challenge to this family of arguments posed by work in behaviour-based robotics. Specifically, we look at Rodney Brooks' work on “subsumption architectures”, an approach that has been especially influential within 4EA (embodied, extended, embedded, enactive, affective) approaches to cognitive science and the philosophy of mind.

With the subsumption architecture, Brooks eschews explicit representations and centralised planning in favour of a set of modules, organized into a hierarchy of layers, each of which is more or less independently responsible for implementing one of the agent's goals. Crucially, while these layers do communicate, communication is restricted to extremely simple signalling – for instance, disabling or activating another layer or module.

Robots controlled by subsumption architectures are able to engage in simple, but fairly robust patterns of behaviours. As such, any theory of motivation that posits a unidimensional representation of value will need to address the fact that there exist agents that demonstrate ordered patterns in action selection but whose internal control system is both distributed and anti-representational.

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