Metatool: Robots are learning how to create new tools, just as early humans did |  Science and Technology

Metatool: Robots are learning how to create new tools, just as early humans did | Science and Technology

3.3 million years ago, humans created what marked a significant milestone in their existence: the first tools. Although it looked simple, its sharp edges were excellent for cutting things and drilling holes.

It is not known exactly how this happened. But it’s clear that going from knowing how to use tools to learning how to build them was a huge cognitive leap that required imagination and forward thinking. This ability is one of the things that distinguishes humans from animals. And today, it’s what separates humans from robots… at least for the time being.

The METATOOL project hopes to uncover some of the mysteries of human consciousness, in order to improve the capabilities of robots. The interdisciplinary project – which unites the fields of archeology, neuroscience and robotics – is being led by two Spaniards: Pablo Lanillos from the Donders Institute of Cognition in the Netherlands and Ricardo Sanz from the Technical University of Madrid.

The goal is to research the human brain, observing abilities and metacognition. The goal is that, eventually, some of the knowledge can be transferred to robots, so that they can invent new tools for humanity, just as our ancestors did.

In total, seven European scientific institutions and companies are part of the project. It has recently received a grant of four million euros from the European Innovation Council for a period of four years.

Lanillos explains that metacognition is the function that allows humans to measure whether or not a task can be carried out. It also helps humans determine whether an invention has observed positive effects. A classic example of this can be found around the hunting activity: unable to catch animals with their hands, humans initially had to rely on stones, before moving on to making other weapons.

Metacognition was also applied when it came to carrying food. Where [our ancestors] They could not hold much in their hands, they invented baskets.

In general, metacognition involves understanding an external problem and imagining an object that can be used to solve it.

Lanillos is the inventor of Tiago – the first robot who managed to recognize himself in a mirror.

With METATOOL, it tries to create images and videos from texts, via artificial intelligence.

“Artificial intelligence can create new faces, which are called generative models. The generative model can invent a tool.” However, in robotics, this is a much more complex phenomenon.

Today’s robots are designed to follow rules; To do this accurately and generally at scale, as their code says. However, they cannot quickly adapt or create what is not there. But with a better understanding of brain function, this could change.

Lanellos explains that the term “consciousness” – when used in relation to robots – does not imply a deeper meaning. Rather, it is meant more simply.

“[With basic consciousness], you understand that you can’t perform a task, but with an object, you can do it in a better way. Consciousness, in this context, is really just a basic awareness of limitations. Rather than pursue the development of artificial consciousness, METATOOL’s research is inspired by brain processes to improve what is currently in the robotics market.

We are not trying to reproduce consciousness (in the broadest sense) because we do not understand it and do not know how to do it. We also don’t need bots to have it. We want safe bots,” he jokes.

Lanellos adds that it will never be possible for a robot to possess human consciousness until there is a full understanding of it – which is extremely unlikely from a scientific point of view. He explains that they at METATOOL are aware of the ethical dimensions that a project might involve. Lanillos assures EL PAÍS that the project employs an ethicist, so that technology development can be appropriately transferred to the community.

The METATOOL Project Consortium poses for a group photo before the inaugural launch at the Technical University of Madrid, circa October 2022. metatool

The initial research the team developed will eventually be applied in the lab.

“Within four years, the goal is to provide a demonstration to technology companies — and to the general public — in which we show how a robot can invent a tool.”

Another goal of the project is to help archaeologists, neuroscientists, and psychologists understand the evolution and changes in the human brain over time.

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