Invited talks

Alex Kacelnik
University of Oxford


Misunderstood Birds, Underachieving Robots: Why Unraveling the Interplay between Design, Learning and Reasoning Matters to Roboticists and Biologists


The greatest challenge for comparative cognition research is understanding the mechanisms underlying autonomous intelligent behavior in living organisms. This somewhat reverses the roboticists' quest for design principles to construct artificial agents with similar properties. I will describe recently discovered competences in bird species that biologists would like to understand and roboticists may wish to emulate. These competences include flexibility and creativity in tool use, solution of mechanical puzzles, and learning by observation. The cognitive processes supporting these competences combine heritable traits, learning, and "advanced" forms of cognition such as reasoning or simulation, all dimensions of relevance for the design of artificial agents. The collaboration between researchers in animal cognition and roboticists may point the way forward for both.


Alex Kacelnik is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at Oxford University and EP Abraham Research Fellow, Pembroke College, Oxford. He completed his undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences (1969) in Buenos Aires University and his DPhil (1979) at the University of Oxford. Although he spent professional periods in Groningen, Cambridge and Berlin, his centre of gravity has been in Oxford, where in 1990 he r founded the Behavioural Ecology Research Group, of which he has been the Director ever since. He is well known for his work on decision-making and on the cognitive processes underlying the use of tools by animals. He received a number of international recognitions, including prizes from the cogito foundation, the Society for Comparative Cognition, and the de Robertis medal for neurosciences. In 2011 he was elected as fellow of the Royal Society. He currently serves as Chairman of the Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships selection panel and on the editorial board of numerous scientific journals.