Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Embodied Communication in Humans and Machines: A Research Agenda

Preparatory RG-Conference

Date: January 12 - 15, 2005
Organizers: Ipke Wachsmuth (Bielefeld), Günther Knoblich (Newark)

Embodiment has become one of the most promising paradigms in Cognitive Science, yet its role in communication has found comparably little attention. The challenge to develop an integrated perspective of embodiment in communication is taken up by a forthcoming ZiF research year to begin in October, 2005. An international conference with highly acclaimed speakers served as a first step to define the research agenda. Embodied Communication in Humans and Machines is the title of the project which, in addition to humans, robots and their simulations, also puts non-human primates in focus. The gestures observed in apes, for instance, are not only interesting phenomena in their own, but they are also indicators of elementary primate abilities to understand the perspective of conspecifics and thus lead into the quest for the origin of human communication. Human gestures, it appears, are not simply an asset of human language but form an intimate connection with speech. For patients with language deficiencies, expressive gesture may serve to compensate for their impairment. Communication, thence, is not restricted to formulating words and sentences. Rather, the acitivity of the whole body provides the primary and most fundamental communicative link to the social partner.
A significant outcome of this preparatory event was the spreading excitement for interdisciplinary engagement among the participants. When psychologists and roboticists linger in fascinated discussion of primatology videos, a first step toward fruitful cooperation is done. That the research group faces quite an extensive work program became obvious in the final discussion. A long list of challenging questions was identified which need to be answered to explore the range of the embodied communication paradigm and, hopefully, pave the way to a deeper understanding of this multifaceted phenomenon.

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