Symposium on Imitation in Animals & Artifacts *

* supported by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

at the AISB'99 Convention, 6th-9th April 1999
Edinburgh College of Arts & Division of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

[Resulting and Related Publications]

Final Program of the Symposium and Registration/Acommodation Links

Location: Main Lecture Theatre, Lauriston Place, Edinburgh College of Arts
Symposium Dates: 7-9 April 1999

New: Call-for-Participation Flyer (postscript)

Call for Papers

Paper submissions are invited for the Symposium on Imitation in Animals & Artifacts to be held at the AISB'99 Convention which will be held in Edinburgh in April 1999. The convention will consist of 14 workshops and symposia on a wide range of themes in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science.

Imitation is one of the most important mechanisms whereby knowledge is transferred between agents (biological, computational or robotic autonomous systems). This symposium will focus on key problems in this important interdisciplinary area.

The topic of imitation has emerged in various areas close to AI including cognitive and social sciences, developmental psychology, animal behavior, robotics, programming by demonstration, machine learning and user-interface design.

The importance of imitation has grown increasingly apparent to psychologists, ethologists, philosophers, linguists, cognitive scientists, computer scientists, mathematicians, biologists, anthropologists, and roboticists. Yet the workers in the field of imitation are often unaware of relevant research by others in other disciplines. The study of imitation has lacked a rigorous foundation and no major interdisciplinary publication is available on the subject for workers in AI. The symposium is aimed toward remedying this situation and will comprise invited keynote lectures, peer-reviewed contributed presentations, expert panels and general discussion in the interdisciplinary area of imitation. This will be achieved by bringing together established researchers from different areas and producing a publication which can be used as a standard reference in research and teaching for the AI community and others in this exciting field. A rigorously refereed and edited volume including invited and selected contributed papers will be published by a major scientific publisher.

The areas of interest of the Symposium on Imitation in Animals & Artifacts will include, but are not limited to:

Imitation is believed to be among the least common and most complex forms of animal learning. It is found in highly social species which show, from a human observer point of view, `intelligent' behavior and traits supporting the evolution of traditions and culture. There is strong evidence for imitation in certain primates (e.g. humans and chimpanzees), cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and specific birds like parrots. Recently, imitation has begun to be studied in domains dealing with such non-natural agents as robots, and as a tool for easing the programming of complex tasks or endowing groups of robotic agents with the ability to share skills without the intervention of a programmer. Imitation plays an important role in the more general context of interaction and collaboration between agents and humans, e.g. between software agents and human users. Intelligent software agents need to get to know their users in order to assist them and do productive work on behalf of humans. Imitation is therefore a means of establishing a `social relationship' and learning about the actions of the user, in order include them into an agent's own behavioral repertoire.

Imitation is on the one hand considered as an efficient mechanism of social learning, and experiments in developmental psychology suggest that infants use imitation to get to know others as persons, perhaps by applying a `like-me' test: `persons are objects which I can imitate and which imitate me'. On the other hand, imitation methods as in programming by demonstration setups in robotics and machine learning have primarily focused on the technological dimensions, while disregarding the more social and developmental functions. Additionally, the split between imitation research in natural sciences and the sciences of the artificial has been difficult to bridge, as we lack a common framework supporting an interdisciplinary approach. Yet, studying imitation for an embodied system inhabiting a non-trivial environment leads one to address all major AI problems from a new perspective: perception-action coupling, body-schemata, learning of sequences of action, recognition and matching of movements, contextualization, reactive and cognitive aspects of behavior, the development of sociality, or the notion of `self', just to mention a few issues.

Imitation involves at least two agents sharing a context, allowing one agent to learn from the other. The exchange of skills, knowledge, and experience between natural agents cannot be achieved by brain-to-brain communication in the same way computers can communicate via the Internet. It is mediated via bodies, the environment, the verbal or non-verbal expression or body language of the `sender', which in return has to be interpreted and integrated in the `recipient's' own understanding and behavioral repertoire. Moreover, as imitation games between babies and parents show, the metaphor of `sender' and `receiver' is deceptive, since the game emerges from the engagement of both agents in the interaction (cf. notions of situated activity and interactive emergence). Thus, learning by imitation and learning to imitate are not just a specific topics in machine learning, but can be seen as a benchmark challenges for successful real-world AI Systems.

The symposium homepage is at

Papers will be selected by anonymous peer review of extended abstracts of not more than 4 A4 pages. A cover page should be supplied listing the Title, and the Author's name and affiliation, but the extended abstract itself should not identify the author. Deadlines are listed in the timetable, below.

Programme Chairs:
Kerstin Dautenhahn
Department of Cybernetics
University of Reading
Whiteknights, PO Box 225
Reading RG6 6AY
United Kingdom

fax: +44-118-931-6220 
tel: +44-118-931-6372

Chrystopher Nehaniv
Interactive Systems Engineering
Faculty of Engineering & Information Sciences
University of Hertfordshire
Hatfield Herts AL10 9AB
United Kingdom

fax: +44-1707-284-303 
tel: +44-1707-284-470

Honorary General Chair:

Prof. Martin J. Loomes
Department of Computer Science
University of Hertfordshire, U.K.

Keynote and Invited Speakers

Programme Committee:

Submissions should be sent to the Programme Chairs at the following address:
Dr. K. Dautenhahn, Department of Cybernetics, University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 225, Reading RG6 6AY, United Kingdom.

The following formats are acceptable:

Four hardcopies (any A4 or US Letter format, max. 4 pp.) via post
Plain ASCII text only electronic submission to

Important Dates:

The AISB'99 Convention is supported by Edinburgh College of Art and the Division of Informatics, University of Edinburgh.

Local organizers:
Dr Geraint Wiggins & Dr Helen Pain, School of Artificial Intelligence, Division of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, 80 South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1HN, Scotland
{geraint,helen}; Tel: +44-131-650 2702; Fax: +44-131-650 651

Download the Call for Papers Flyer : Please post!!