Invited Speakers


Josep Call, University of St Andrews (UK), Professor in Evolutionary Origins of Mind.

On tools, traps, and tubes:  How apes solve problems

Overcoming obstacles to obtain a desired goal is the bedrock of problem solving.  Several abilities including planning, motor control, and causal knowledge are implicated in the production of novel solutions to old and new problems.  In this talk I will present work on ape problem solving that illustrates each of these abilities at work. I will also devote some time to explore the importance of an individual’s specific experiences in the development of those abilities.  In the last part of my talk I will focus on cooperative problem solving, i.e., how individuals solve problems together, paying special attention to both motivational and cognitive aspects. Some data on monkeys and birds on identical (or comparable) tasks will provide some comparative data on which to draw some tentative inferences about the evolution of cognition.

Josep Call is a comparative psychologist specializing in primate cognition.  He is Professor in the Evolutionary Origins of Mind (School of Psychology and Neuroscience) at the University of St Andrews (UK). He received his BA (1990) from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain), and MA (1995) and PhD (1997) from Emory University, Atlanta (USA). From 1997 to 1999 he was a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences from the University of Liverpool (UK).  In 1999 he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) where he was a senior scientist until 2013 and director of the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Center until 2017.  His research focuses on elucidating the cognitive processes underlying technical and social problem solving in animals with the ultimate goal of reconstructing the evolution of human and nonhuman cognition.  He has published five books and nearly 300 articles and book chapters on the behaviour and cognition of the great apes and other animals.  He has been awarded the Irvine Memorial Medal and the Sheth Distinguished International Alumni Award, and been elected a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Cognitive Science Society, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.


Rod Grupen, University of Massachusetts Amherst (US), Professor and Director of the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics.

A Computational Abstraction of Development: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Structure.

Robots remain clumsy and inflexible mostly because they are programmed by humans with little insight into what the world is like for a robot. Drawing on theories of how animals develop, I will introduce an integrated computational abstraction for a different kind of machine that learns by direct interaction with the world. The goal is to exploit structure encoded in the native embodiment, to learn hierarchical skills for controlling things in the world, and to populate memory with knowledge that supports expert behavior, resourcefulness, and dexterity. I will present experimental implementations of these ideas on our robots over the years to highlight how such a cognitive framework can be used to implement developmentally organized robots.

Rod Grupen is a roboticist who studies how computing, embodiment, control theory, machine learning, and representation  interact in integrated intelligent systems—natural and artificial.   He received a BA in physics (1981) from Franklin and Marshall College, a BS in mechanical engineering (1981) from Washington University, an MS in mechanical engineering (1984) from the Pennsylvania State University, and a PhD in Computer Science (1988)  from the University of Utah. That year, he also joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he is now a Distinguished Professor in the College of Computer and Information Sciences, the Director of the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, and has been honored as an Outstanding Teaching Award recipient. 

A central focus of his research concerns a computational model of early childhood development in control theoretic terms using techniques developed for adaptive optimal learning. Professor Grupen co-founded the Embedded Systems instructional laboratory in which undergraduate and graduate students from many disciplines learn about building integrated sensorimotor systems. He is on the Senior Advisory Board of the International Journal of Robotics and Autonomous Systems and is an Associate Editor for the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing.



Donald Pfaff, The Rockefeller University (US), Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior.

Quantitative Modeling of CNS Arousal Systems.

I have spent some time considering the relations of primitive CNS capacities to the programming of robots (“A Neuroscientist Looks at Robots”, World Scientific Press).  Along those lines, we now study brain mechanisms that underlie the most fundamental property of the brain, the ability to initiate behavior (Generalized Arousal, see Harvard University Press “Brain Arousal and Information Theory”).  Most of today’s talk will illustrate applications of a computer model written in C to examine potential architectures of CNS arousal systems.  We also have an interesting equation that models well the onset of arousal in mice.

Donald Pfaff graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude and received his PhD from MIT.  He is Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University in New York City.  His lab is expert in two subjects:  effects of hormones on the brain and quantitative measurements of CNS arousal.







Tamar Flash, Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) Professor, Dept of CS and Applied Mathematics.

On the compositionality, timing and coordination of complex movements.

In my talk I will discuss several research directions taken to explore different principles underlying the construction and control of complex human arm and gait movements. One important topic is motor compositionality, examining the nature of the primitives underlying the construction of complex movements at different levels of the motor hierarchy.  Another topic is motor timing, investigating the principles dictating the timing of complex motor behaviors regarding the durations of both different motion segments and the total movement durations. Finally the third topic to be discussed is motor coordination and the mapping between end-effector and joint motions for both upper limb and locomotion movements using various dimension reduction approaches.  The mathematical models applied combine optimization models and geometrical approaches.

Tamar Flash is a professor at the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. She earned her BSc and MSc degrees in Physics from the Tel-Aviv University, Israel. She received her Ph.D. in Medical Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1983) where she enrolled in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology. She continued with her postdoctoral training at MIT, at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (1983-1985).  In 1985 she joined the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science where she established a research group, focusing on motor control and robotics and also served as the department head (2004-2007).  She was a visiting professor at MIT, the College de France, Berkeley University and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard University.

Important Dates

Submission deadline:
March 15th, 2017
April 2nd, 2017 (strict)

Author notification:
June 1st, 2017
June 6th, 2017 (sorry!)

Camera ready due:
July 1st, 2017
July 7th, 2017 (strict)

September 18th-21st, 2017

Graphics (banner)

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