Self-Other Discrimination – a Prerequisite of Man-Robot Cooperation?

“Cogito, Ergo Sum” – is it “My Thinking” makes me a Self and opposes me to others? Against the background of progressive industrial automation, artificial intelligence and collaborative humanoid robots, this age-old question now draws increasing public attention to a quite modern topic: Can robots become coequal work-related partners of men? The planned investigation skips the topic’s philosophical, ethical, political, or cultural connotations. Instead, we replace Descartes’ extremely self-centered view by introducing “Paired Abstract Automatons”. One of the principally coequal automatons we call “Self” and the partner “Other”. We base concepts like social interaction, partnership, goal pursuit, autonomy, automation, enslaving, or tool use on this theory, knowing that all these concepts need a self-other layout to become definable and that the partners require special signaling to transmit task related commands and to understand each other’s intentions.

Here, we limit the discourse to sensorimotor control and haptics in men as well as to the corresponding technical aspects in machines. In this context, we look for core mechanisms that enable discriminating between self-made and foreign-made sensory inflow. Therefore, we include controller-plant arrangements in the framework of paired abstract automatons, and assign the role of a Self to the controller and the role of an Other to the plant. By a suitable definition of controller and plant, which includes also the reverse relationship, this approach is applicable to a wide range of scenarios, e.g. two interacting machines, a human bearing a prosthesis or an exoskeleton, or a human interacting with the own limbs or even with conspecifics.

Our goal is to identify and experimentally validate a solution for haptic self-other discrimination in humans, to implement the respective solution into a robot, and to provide reciprocal signaling with a syntax that both sides can easily understand.

PIs: Prof. Dr. Karl Theodor Kalveram & Prof. Dr. Mario Kupnik