Last Modified (quickly) 6 November, 1999

Joanna J. Bryson

Free speech online

Hi there.

My name is Joanna Bryson. I work at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. I am a candidate for a PhD (expected within the millennium), under Lynn Stein. I'm associated with The Leg Lab, but I'm currently in Edinburgh.

Quote of the random time interval: "We managed to get home. There were many problems along the way. They even used water hoses to prevent us from going home. They demanded that we lay down our arms. We refused to obey. It was not enough that we were killed by bombs, now they are beating our parents. I shall not go back there. This is not a war, this is frenzy in which it is both difficult to survive and to remain sane. I want to keep my senses. I don't want to kill anyone, nor do I want to be killed..." --- A Serbian conscript who returned home after a war protest in his home village, May 1999

Old quotes are here.

This page is due for a major revision within the next few weeks. In the mean time, my home page in Europe is still a bit more up to date, even though I'm back at the AI Lab.

My Research

I'm interested in how intelligence works, in people and in animals. (I don't think you can understand the former without the latter!) My research starts from a distributed model of intelligence called reactive, behavior-based reasoning. This approach has produced the first robots that can reliably interact with the real world at realistic, animal-like speeds. However, by the time I started working on this problem in 1993, it was already obvious that the approach wasn't scaling very well. In other words, no new purely behavior-based robots have come out that could behave in a significantly more complex way than the early projects such as Herbert and Polly .

Since 1993, I have been working on exploring and extending the capabilities of the behavior-based approach. This work has taken me in three major directions:

  • Control Structure The original behavior-based architectures lacked sufficient control state (a part of short term memory) to allow for the completion of complex tasks. Complex activity requires propogating decisions through selective attention to appropriate behaviors. I've developed an architecture, Edmund , that has hierarchical and sequential control structuring while still maintaining a high level of reactivity. More on control structure.
  • Learning Behavior-based AI was originally meant to be purely reactive, which didn't allow for learning. If there's no variable state, where do you store what you learn? Although this problem was quickly recognized, the current learning research in autonomous agents often makes the opposite mistake: trying to use monolothic learning systems to develop the entire action-selection system for an agent. My approach is that learning, like the rest of AI, should be modular and constrained to task, and an integrated part of perception and behavior. More on learning.
  • Design and Methodology The essence of behavior-based artificial intelligence is `careful engineering' or hand-coding. Consequently, a behavior-based system is limited by its programmers' ability to conceptualize their tasks. Design and the management of complexity are not only engineering issues; they affect natural processes such as evolution and learning as well. Paying attention to methodology and ease of design has had a major impact on both my control structure and my approach to learning. I am convinced it is key to the problem of developing complex behavior, whether by hand, by unsupervised learning, or anything in between. More on design and methodology.

  • Other Sides of My Research

  • Here's a picture of the Edinburgh Nomad encountering my desk.
  • Here's some more general things I've written about Artificial Intelligence and its impact on society.
  • Here's a a BBS review with Will Lowe called a Cognition without Representatonal Rediscription.
  • Past research projects:
  • The Reactive Accompanist (an AI music system)
  • Cog (a humanoid robot).
  • Here's a research-oriented list of Related Web Sites .

    The best supported theory in science is the theory of evolution. We don't understand evolution perfectly, but we understand it better than we understand gravity. If you don't know basic evolution theory, you will have trouble understanding not only biology, but also modern theories of society (including religion) and intelligence (including artificial intelligence). If you aren't getting a good background on evolution at school, try reading some of the links off John Wilkins's Evolution Links page.

    Other Bits of Life

    Finding me: I'm currently doing research with Brendan McGonigle in the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh. If you need to contact me, see the address at the bottom of the page. I turn up periodically at MIT, but I'm living in Scotland until at least September 1999.

    I've previously TAed undergraduate AI (6.034) in case your curious what that's like at MIT.

    I have RSI, clicking there will get you to a good information server about typing injuries. I have a datahand keyboard, clicking there will show you a picture of one. Jane Greening and Bruce Lynn of UCL have research indicating RSI really is nerve damage. Check it out! If you work in MIT-NE43, you might want to join RSI mailing list that I set up. If you are in AI, just edit the alias file, otherwise you can email me.

    The Artificial Intelligence Lab / Lab of Computer Science Soccer teams The Cold Booters kick grass. I wrote the Cold Booters C League Home Page, and I'll sign up anyone who emails me to whichever league they like. We practice occassionally all year, but the IM season propper is Fall term.

    Even though hockey is evil (it takes people away from soccer!) I am also playing with Halting Problem, which I only admit because it's such a great name.

    Politics... Check out the City of Cambridge home page which has links to the US federal government and MA state government as well. The local phone numbers for MIT area Congresspeople are Ted Kennedy 565-3170, John Kerry 565-8519 and (Rep for Cambridge and Somerville) Joe Kennedy 252-0200. A couple of good causes:

  • Computer Scientists for Social Responsibility have put together a year 2000 rumor central web page that's worth reading.
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology can help you save the world.

  • My Past

    In case you are trying to figure out if you know me, or if you just want to know about some really cool people and places, here's my life's history:

    I am late of LEGO Futura (Boston Branch), Marble Associates, the Department of AI at U of Edinburgh, LaSalle Street in Chicago, The College of the University of Chicago, and Glenbard North Highschool in Carol Stream, Illinois. I spent the late 60's in Omaha, Nebraska (but I don't remember them,) and I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, like Herbert Simon.

    Here's my resume', in case you are looking for excuses to give me money.


    Thanks to Andrew Fitzgibbon for telling me "millennia" is plural.

    The guys at the Computer Vision Group at Trinity College Dublin first harassed me about not having a Web page, so now I do, and in return I'd like to suggest the world drop by and ask Gerry Lacey where's the best place to go for a pint.

    I must acknowledge Will Lowe, though I can't say for what in public. (Parse that in British!)

    Joanna Bryson (This pointed to my finger back in pre-spam, pre-hacking-paranoia days)
    MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
    545 Technology Square, Room 006
    Cambridge, MA 02139
    (617) 253-2475 (Jerry & Mike's extension)