Imitation vs Self-awareness: The Mirror Test

One benchmark for "self-awareness" in animals and people (and now robots as well) is whether they will perform self-directed actions when looking in a mirror. When a mark is placed on the forehead of a child, they will only begin to inspect it on their own forehead at the age of 3 or 4. Adult bottlenose dolphins perform similarly in equivalent tests designed for underwater use.

According to this discovery news article, Junichi Takeno and a team of researchers at Meiji University in Japan have observed similar behavior in a robot with a hierarchical neural network. By equipping the bot with a series of LEDs that light differently depending on the internal state of the robot (two red diodes when the robot is performing behavior it considers its own, two green when the robot acknowledges behavior being performed by the other, or one blue when the robot is both recognizing behavior in another robot and imitating it) they noticed that it behaved differently when viewing its mirror image than in the presence of another robot which imitated its actions precisely.

There are numerous problems with the discovery news article (not least of which is the claim that imitation is the best test of consciousness, whatever that means) and there also appear to be even more problems with Takeno's research (for one thing, it's trivial to differentiate self from other if the other imitates you precisely without a blue light) but it is nonetheless an interesting beginning for tests of self-awareness in robotics.

Edit: now that the story has been posted on slashdot, I imagine everyone has already seen this. Nonetheless, here is the original paper.


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