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Cognitive robotics
Cangelosi A., Asada M., MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2022. 496 pp. Type: Book (0262046830)
Date Reviewed: May 15 2024

I have been exploring robotics over the last few years, so access to a book on the topic from a highly reputed publisher like MIT Press was an attractive proposition. And I was not disappointed! Best of all: this comprehensive book is available under a Creative Commons (CC) license--perhaps hard to believe, but indeed it is so!

The book’s three parts, spread over 22 chapters, span the wide field of cognitive robotics. As the title makes clear, purely mechanical and electronic robots are excluded from the scope. The attention is on robotics that have a strong artificial intelligence (AI) component.

Part 1, “Definitions and Approaches,” attempts a sketch of the field in chapter 1, and then provides an in-depth look at the various types of robotics based on the approach adopted. These span neurorobotics, developmental, evolutionary, swarm, and soft robotics. As this list shows, the breadth is very vast. The treatment of each is very detailed, though a proper introduction and interlinking of these types is missing. This is one problem with the book.

Part 2, “Methods and Concepts,” looks at some of what enables robotics to work, starting with various platforms and simulators. For various robotic applications, the material (skin) of the robot is important--this justifies the chapter on biomimetic skin. Machine learning is fundamental, of course, to reduce the manual feeding of world knowledge into the machine. It is dealt with in some detail; however, this is a topic worthy of multiple books, hence the depth and breadth is compromised. Further chapters explore cognitive architectures that can drive the AI models, embodiment, and ethics. It was nice to see a chapter on ethics, as it is a topic of current interest and concern in various aspects of AI.

Part 3, “Behavioral and Cognitive Capabilities,” spans 11 chapters. The chapters explore intrinsic motivations for learning, principles for cognitive vision, cognitive navigation, cognitive manipulation, cognitive control for decision and collaboration, social cognition, human robot interaction, language and communication, knowledge representation and reasoning, abstract concepts, and machine consciousness. As this list shows, a wide range of topics are covered, basically focusing on cognitive-dimension being added to tasks like communication and navigation. The chapter on abstract concepts takes you to a realm much beyond the usual robotics in AI in general and explores understanding abstract concepts--a hard topic indeed. And the final chapter on consciousness extends this further into imparting consciousness to machines--a hugely challenging problem by itself.

Much of the discussion does not seem related to the topic of robotics at all, often discussing the foundations of language understanding in humans, the basics of vision, and so on. Some editing could perhaps bring the book into a manageable size, too. For those readers with an eye for robotics, these can be significant diversions without any direct benefit.

For those who seek to explore the field, one nice thing about the book is the many references--often running four to five pages--listed at the end of each chapter. These are cited in the chapter and hence provide an easy way for readers to delve deeper. The treatment of each topic is quite scholarly, citing literature whenever possible and touching on most of the relevant aspects. The writing is quite fluent, which makes the book readable.

On the negative side, the chapters being written by different authors affects the book’s coherence and flow. The top-level division into robot types, platforms, and so on provides some help. But building on concepts as per prerequisites or complexity and then interrelating the topics--for example, how to compare the different robotic classes--gets left out. Each chapter is quite sharply focused on its chosen topic. Furthermore, the intended audience is also unclear due to the prerequisites required for understanding, the expectations, and the depth and breadth of coverage. The result is a book that is a bit hard to read unless you are quite well versed in the field.

On the whole, this is a valuable book for those involved with or interested in the field, though the rate of absorption may depend on your depth of experience.

Reviewer:  M Sasikumar Review #: CR147764
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