Dr. Peter Stone who is assistant professor in the Department of Computer Sciences at The University of Texas Austin was the recipient of this year’s Computers and Thought Award. The award is presented during the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) to a person selected by a specially selected review committee. Prof. Stone received the award for his contributions to robotics and more specifically for his research in multi-agent systems in collaborative and adversarial dynamic environments.
Prof. Stone has developed a number of new machine learning and vision algorithms that enable robots to play team sports and specifically soccer. His RoboCup teams have been extremely successful over the last few years something that he attributes to the development of improved reinforcement learning algorithms.
Interestingly, the award was not presented to anyone during the last conference in 2005 because the committee did not deem anyone was good enough. This makes Stone’s selection even more important and I would like to join in congratulating him for his success.
Peter gave a very interesting talk during the conference. He claimed that artificial intelligence research should be driven by what he calls “challenge problems.” He advocates that we should work towards the ultimate goal of AI (building autonomous learning agents) using a bottom-up approach, i.e., by constructing robots capable of completing specific tasks such as playing soccer. He believes that top-down approaches miss out on discovering heuristics that would make most of AI problems solvable. One of the biggest challenges for bottom-approaches are that can be very specific to the particular task and not generalize to other problems. Early in his talk, Prof. Stone made it clear that there is a middle ground where the two approaches meet and that is his battlefield. Luckily for those who could not attend the conference, a video of the talk as well as Stone’s presentation slides are available online here.
The Computers and Thought Award is very prestigious and some very notable scientists have received it over the years. Past recipients include David Marr, Tom Mitchell, Rodney Brooks, Martha Pollack, Stuart Russell, Leslie Kaelbling and Daphne Koller among many others.