LCSR Seminar: Malcolm MacIver “Biological planning deciphered via AI algorithms and robot-animal competition in partially observable environments”

October 5, 2022 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Hackerman B17
Ashley Moriarty

Link for Live Seminar

Link for Recorded seminars – 2022/2023 school year


Abstract: Planning, the ability to imagine different futures and select one assessed to have high value, is one of the most vaunted of animal capacities. As such it has been a central target of artificial intelligence work from the origins of that field, in addition to being a focus of neuroscience and cognitive science. These separate and sometimes synergistic traditions are combined in our new work exploring the origin and mechanics of planning in animals. We will show how mammals evade autonomous robot “predators” in complex large arenas. We have discovered that depending on the arrangement and density of barriers to vision, animals appear to carefully manage their uncertainty about the predator’s location in order to reach their goal. Their behavior appears unlikely to be driven by cached responses that were successful in the past, but rather based on planning during brief pauses over which they peek at the hidden robot adversary that is looking for them. After peeking, they re-route to avoid the predator.


Bio: Malcolm A. MacIver is a group leader of the Center for Robotics and Biosystems at Northwestern University, with a joint appointment between Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, and courtesy appointments in the Department of Neurobiology and the Department of Computer Science. His work focuses on extracting principles underlying animal behavior, focusing on interactions between biomechanics, sensory systems, and planning circuits. He then incorporates these principles into biorobotic systems or simulations of the animal in its environment for synergy between technological and scientific advances. For this work he received the 2009 Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering from President Obama at the White House. MacIver has also developed interactive science-inspired art installations that have exhibited internationally, and consults for science fiction film and TV series makers.

Laboratory for Computational Sensing + Robotics