Why AI Needs a Body

JC Baillie
8 min readNov 28, 2017
iCub robot

I’ve already mentioned in a previous article why I thought Deep Learning, while a fantastic technology, was not the whole story for AI. At least if we are talking about Artificial General Intelligence which aims at capturing the versatility and incredible flexibility of human intelligence. In particular, I stressed the fact that embodiment was a crucial aspect, an opinion that is nowadays shared by many researchers in fundamental AI.

In this article, I would like to go a bit deeper on this notion: why would a general AI need a body and interactions with the real world? Why couldn’t we just get it to digest huge amounts of data and make sense of it? What does the embodiment actually bring to the table, and can we find an example of something that could not be achieved by a disembodied AI? All these questions are crucial to better understand the limitations of today’s AI systems.

The first thing to realize is that by passively observing phenomenons and collecting data on them, one can only extract correlations, not causation. To establish causation, you need to physically act on the system you study, and observe the consequences. I recommend the reading of the very good book by Judea Pearl, “Causality”, talking extensively about this distinction. A famous illustration is given by Pearl when he highlights that there is no way to prove that smoking causes cancer on the basis of the…

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JC Baillie

Founder of Novaquark, maker of Dual Universe. Founder of the AI Lab @Softbank Robotics Europe. Expert in AI, Robotics & Virtual Worlds.