Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ShanghAI lectures

I wanted to learn about artificial intelligence. What is a better way than to join a lecture series conducted by an expert in this field from one of the leading universities in the world?

Welcome to ShanghAI lectures.

ShangAI Lectures are a series of online lectures on Natural and Artificial Intelligence. A global classroom of students from different parts of the world get together, online, to know about the cutting edge research that is going on in the field of artificial intelligence.


The class is 3 hours in length through video conferencing. The classes are conducted by professor Rolf Pfiefer from the AI lab in Zurich. It starts off with the professor discussing a topic in front of the class. This is an interactive session where questions will be directed to different global classrooms on the topics being discussed. This is followed by guest lectures from eminent speakers on the field of robotics and artificial intelligence.

The lectures are held over a span of three months with a number of assignments where students are put together in a group and work together on assignments. The assignments are designed to provide a beginner with insight on the different methods adopted in the circles of artificial intelligence. The students get to learn and use Webots simulator which is a powerful simulator for simulating robots in a "real life" setting where they are subjected to forces programmed. (ex gravity).

Lecture Topics
A wide variety of topics are discussed on intelligence, thinking and artificial intelligence. An introduction is given on what is intelligence and artificial intelligence. The landscape is then described using the myriad of developmental robotic projects being carried out. Important concepts such as frame of reference and synthetic methodology are explained with very good examples by professor Rolf.

The properties on intelligent systems and the principles involved in designing them are explained beautifully in detail. The difference in real and virtual worlds and hence the need of an embodied approach was explained in a wonderful way. The different principles of designing agents were detailed with a number of examples for each principle driving home the importance of each principle.

The concept of how locomotion is essential to cognition, two seemingly unrelated activities, was elegantly described by professor Rolf. The assignments provided a deep insight on how "design is out and evolution is in". Evolutionary algorithms were used to describe how the parameters of a robotic dog can be varied to optimize it for a particular fitness. The fitness was the longest distance traversed without falling in case of the robot dog. The ways in which artificial evolution and neural networks are used in the the modern world was mind boggling.

The lectures took a dive into the science fiction path when they described how collective intelligent behavior can be used to have swarm of robots. Modular robots can be used to modify their morphology to achieve different functions. These discussions were very interesting and have made me more curious into this evolving field of artificial intelligence.

Group 160
I was assigned to a group which is proudly called group 160. We worked together on the assignment projects and it was a wonderful experience. There was a rich sharing of information and ideas as we worked on the assignments. It was amazing working with such hard working and extremely talented individuals. The group was also assigned a highly motivating mentor who graded our assignments and provided us with feedback, helped us when we got stuck and motivated us throughout the course. The dynamics of the group was almost perfect even when we had not known/seen each other before. I still have not seen any of my group mates still :) . I had a wonderful time working in group160 with very knowledgable people in my team.

I want to thank my team members Miss. Stephanie Wartenburg, Miss. Denise Rieser and Miss. Xiong qu for their active participation in the assignments, keeping me motivated and also providing me with a great amount of knowledge in this otherwise obscure field :). I also want to thank our supervisor Mr. Naveen Kuppuswamy for his motivation and valuable feedback.

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