What is morphological computation? On how the body contributes to cognition and control

Artificial Life 23 (1):1-24 (2017)
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The contribution of the body to cognition and control in natural and artificial agents is increasingly described as “off-loading computation from the brain to the body”, where the body is said to perform “morphological computation”. Our investigation of four characteristic cases of morphological computation in animals and robots shows that the ‘off-loading’ perspective is misleading. Actually, the contribution of body morphology to cognition and control is rarely computational, in any useful sense of the word. We thus distinguish (1) morphology that facilitates control, (2) morphology that facilitates perception and the rare cases of (3) morphological computation proper, such as ‘reservoir computing.’ where the body is actually used for computation. This result contributes to the understanding of the relation between embodiment and computation: The question for robot design and cognitive science is not whether computation is offloaded to the body, but to what extent the body facilitates cognition and control – how it contributes to the overall ‘orchestration’ of intelligent behaviour.

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Author Profiles

Matej Hoffmann
Czech Technical University, Prague
Vincent C. Müller
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg