catch up: Bielefeld, Max & RobotCub

Wow, I knew it had been a while since I blogged, but not how long!

The train strike didn't happen and we got to my talk on time --- maybe by ignoring a guy in a car that was waiting for us! I didn't notice, because our plane was late and we were running to the train, only afterwards Will said "did one of those guys have your name on a card?" but I hadn't seen. Anyway, everyone was so worried about the train strike they were driving so several other speakers got picked up in cars and then were late because of traffic jams!

There were very famous people on the talk schedule with me I really respect, but I didn't get intimidated and did a good talk. Will really enjoyed the whole experience and said that my talk was particularly well pitched at the audience, helping them think about why anyone builds cognitive robots in the first place, and what they should be really studying. The people who invited me seemed to like the talk. I also wound up on a panel at the end because some of the people who were supposed to be there were late, although in fact they arrived just in time so it was quite a large panel! I was already friends with a number of the other speakers, so it was great to see them.

Bielefeld is a univerisity for 30,000 students, all in one building built out in a forest! (Sort of a 1960s version of cool futurism on a government budget kind of building.) The next day they had the real opening ceremony and two walking humanoid robots from Honda participated. I've taken video on my phone, maybe one day I'll figure out how to put that on the web... Then Will and I spent a little time walking in the town and I bought a nice coat for me to celebrate the talk (my old nice coat is getting older than nicer, which is a shame since I love it. The new one is not as warm and more for dressing up when either it isn't really cold or you aren't walking very far.)

Thursday we ran back through lots of train stations and changes to make it to a talk by one of my friends at the KLI, but we were still late! It was about why human intelligence supports superstition, taking an evolutionary perspective. My friend is still working on his ideas, it was an informal talk. Then Friday I had to fly again to Heathrow -- just for one day! There was a meeting of an executive board of the European Network for advancing artificial cognitive systems. I'd only recently been elected to it so it was my first meeting. I made a mistake of volunteering to fix the two things they sorted out. In theory there is enough money that I can hire someone to do the real work and just manage them. One thing is a book about cognitive systems and the people who build them, and the other is helping to put together curricula for people trying to teach university-level courses about them. But honestly the coolest thing was probably a meeting a few of us had over breakfast because our planes got in early -- in that one of the guys talked about the role of art in human cognition, which I hadn't thought seriously about before, but now I have. I was meaning to post an email I sent him here, maybe I will another time.

It was annoying that this all happened while Will was here! So I flew right back after the meeting and spent the weekend with Will. He nearly missed his plane again Sunday night, he doesn't ever really want to go! Then I did laundry and cleaned the house, or at least most of it.

So then I did more ordinary sorts of work on Monday, but tuesday the cool thing was that I went to a talk by (by coincidence!) a very cool AI professor from Bielefeld, Ipke Wachsmuth, who works on an AI VR character called Max. It was the kind of talk that would normally make me insanely jealous -- they are getting so much work on AI done! But I love my current research so I was just happy to see such cool work and for the chance to know about it.

I managed to talk my way into going to dinner with the speaker. The other two not-previously-invited people at dinner were two students who had invented a Cognitive Science degree at Vienna because they wanted to take it! They got a curriculum from another university and realized Vienna taught all the courses but in different departments. Then they organized themselves a couple more courses to connect the pieces together. It became an official degree just this month, and they still don't have their own PhDs yet! I was really impressed by them and look forward to talking to their students next year (they invited me.)

OK, so that was Tuesday night. So I had to get up early on Wednesday again to fly to Genoa to review the RobotCub project for the EU. I can't really say what happens at reviews, but I will say that the robot is working now and was very cool -- hopefully there will be videos on line soon. I had to work all day Wednesday while (and long after) travelling, reading about the progress of the project --- they have to write long reports then someone has to read them! The the review was all day Thursday (including demos that evening and dinner) and Friday morning. Again a lot of people I know are on the project, and people I am coming to know from the reviews who are amazing scientists. There was a new reviewer on the project that I met and made friends with in 1996 but hadn't seen since 1998! He is now working at the only private university in Germany, quite an experiment. Its frustrating because there is never enough time to talk to everyone, especially when we all have to work on the review.

Then Friday Will came to Genoa because he had been jealous that it sounded cool the last two years, so we stayed at a place near the Mediterranean Sea. Weirdly, the first time I reviewed RobotCub in 2005 I had only seen the Mediterranean for the first time the month before, at a conference in Greece called Intelligent Virtual Agents (it isn't always in Greece, it just was that year.) That time I went swimming in the sea with two very cool older women who loaned me a swimming suit! But I'm not sure it's very clean. Anyway, Will got pulled off his plane for no reason so then was really late Friday night. We were both just shattered all weekend so slept a lot but did some walking to some village you can't get to except by foot (over hills) or by boat (how we went home.) It also got cold. Will thinks he is bad luck.


View Larger Map We hiked from Paraggi to San Fruttuoso, which is really down by the Sea not in the mountains! It's in sort of a square-shaped harbour/cove south-east of where Google points the arrow.

Then Monday we were coming home but there was an airport strike in Milan (in fact, two!) so we got stuck there another day, and the internet server was down at the hotel. We got some work done anyway, but then we had to get up at 3am UK time (4am Italy time) to catch a plane to the UK. So I got .5 days in Nottingham where I expected 1.5, which is terrible. I went through all my email really quickly and talked to some robotics guys from Edinburgh and to a student who wants to model human social dynamics and a bit to my new postdoc.

Tomorrow my postdoc and I will meet on the train to Bath and talk about this new idea for incorporating emotion-like systems in my AI planning that I've had and he is trying to test. I've been working on understanding my own code whenever I could use my laptop for the last couple weeks -- a friend and former student and former employee has fixed a lot of the code (and it got translated into another computer language by some other students ages ago) so I have needed to work to catch up --- that's one of the reasons I wanted the sabbatical. I hope in November I will be using this to do some new models of primate behaviour.

But Thursday I am going to Oxford and Will will come too and we will be in a meeting Friday, and then Saturday I have to fly to Luxemburgh to get to Saarbrucken to review another EU project (smaller than RobotCub though) so I will be reading all day Sunday again...

You can see why I never write when I also have to teach!!
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