A Cognitive Robotic Imitation Learning System Based On Cause-Effect Reasoning

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As autonomous systems become more intelligent and ubiquitous, it is increasingly important that their behavior can be easily controlled and understood by human end users. Robotic imitation learning has emerged as a useful paradigm for meeting this challenge. However, much of the research in this area focuses on mimicking the precise low-level motor control of a demonstrator, rather than interpreting the intentions of a demonstrator at a cognitive level, which limits the ability of these systems to generalize. In particular, cause-effect reasoning is an important component of human cognition that is under-represented in these systems.

This dissertation contributes a novel framework for cognitive-level imitation learning that uses parsimonious cause-effect reasoning to generalize demonstrated skills, and to justify its own actions to end users. The contributions include new causal inference algorithms, which are shown formally to be correct and have reasonable computational complexity characteristics. Additionally, empirical validations both in simulation and on board a physical robot show that this approach can efficiently and often successfully infer a demonstrator’s intentions on the basis of a single demonstration, and can generalize learned skills to a variety of new situations. Lastly, computer experiments are used to compare several formal criteria of parsimony in the context of causal intention inference, and a new criterion proposed in this work is shown to compare favorably with more traditional ones.

In addition, this dissertation takes strides towards a purely neurocomputational implementation of this causally-driven imitation learning framework. In particular, it contributes a novel method for systematically locating fixed points in recurrent neural networks. Fixed points are relevant to recent work on neural networks that can be “programmed” to exhibit cognitive-level behaviors, like those involved in the imitation learning system developed here. As such, the fixed point solver developed in this work is a tool that can be used to improve our engineering and understanding of neurocomputational cognitive control in the next generation of autonomous systems, ultimately resulting in systems that are more pliable and transparent.