About the ShanghAI Lectures

About the ShanghAI Lectures


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Embodied intelligence

While in the classical approach “intelligence” was viewed essentially as information processing taking place in the brain, more recently the insight that the interaction with the environment is of central importance is gaining increasing acceptance. This has led to the metaphor of embodiment, i.e., that intelligence is always a property of an entire organism. This idea has far-reaching implications and often leads to surprising insights.

This lecture series, consisting of 9 videoconference sessions of roughly two hours (including a short break) and a tenth session of about 3 hours, provides a systematic introduction to the concept of embodiment (“Embodied Intelligence”). The implications of an embodied view on intelligence are not only of a scientific nature but lead to a completely different way of how we view ourselves and the world around us. Examples and illustrations will be taken from humans, animals, and engineering (robotics in particular) and are intended to demonstrate that things can always be seen differently from what we would normally expect.

Using the method of “understanding by building”, the lectures provide a set of design principles that on the one hand enable a better understanding of biological systems,and on the other provide heuristics for how to design artificial ones, in particular robots. The argument is based largely on the notions of time scales, complex dynamical systems, self-organization, and emergence.

The theoretical ideas will be illustrated with many examples and case studies from academia and the private sector, and there will be hands-on exercises with computer simulations and real robots (depending on the respective university's participation mode).

ShanghAI Lectures 2013 edition

We, Fabio Bonsignorio (University Carlos III of Madrid and HeronRobots), with a substantial cooperation from Rolf Pfeifer and Nathan Labhart (University of Zurich), will continue with the project!

As Rolf Pfeifer's general introduction to Embodied AI is available as a recording on the ShanghAI Lectures website, the idea is now to update the "main lecture" by distributing it among experts in their respective fields. Fabio Bonsignorio will coordinate. He and Rolf Pfeifer will provide the context (introduction, moderation, and conclusion). The lectures will be hosted by University Carlos III of Madrid, University of Zurich, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna of Pisa, Humboldt University Berlin. We will keep a strong focus on morphological computation, embodied cognition and soft robotics. As always, there will be 1-2 invited guest lectures each week, including:

  • Minoru Asada (Osaka University)
  • Josh Bongard (University of Vermont)
  • Angelo Cangelosi (Universty of Plymouth)
  • Luisa Damiano (University of Bergamo)
  • Tamar Flash (Weizmann Institute)
  • Helmut Hauser (University of Zurich)
  • Danica Kragic (KTH)
  • Yasuo Kuniyoshi (University of Tokyo)
  • Pedro Lima (IST Lisbon)
  • Luigi Luisi (Roma Tre University)
  • Giorgio Metta (IIT)
  • Vincent Mueller (Anatolia College and Oxford University)
  • Kevin O'Regan (Paris Descartes/CNRS/ENS)
  • Bram Vanderborght (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • Manuela Veloso (CMU)
  • Hector Zenil (Karolinska Institutet)
  • More to come...

The lectures and guest presentations will again be held via videoconference, and the recordings will be made available on the ShanghAI Lectures site. To simplify the organization and make the lecture series more attractive to students, there will be no mandatory exercises, but optional group projects that yield a "certificate of achievement" at the end of the course. Students are free to choose their communication tools (flashmeeting, Skype, 3-D environment, website, e-mail, chat…).

The lectures will take place as usual on Thursdays* from 9:30–11:30 CET.


  • General rehearsal: 10 October 2013
  • First lecture: 17 October 2013
  • Last lecture: 19 December 2013

We hope that you and your students would join this on-going experiment this fall term (we still have a few available slots). If you are interested to know more, please write to fabio.bonsignorio@uc3m.es.

Local coordination at University Carlos III of Madrid:

Book (mandatory)

htb_english How the Body Shapes the Way We Think – A New View of Intelligence

by Rolf Pfeifer and Josh C. Bongard, MIT Press, November 2006, ISBN 0-262-16239

Also available in Chinese:

htb_chinese 身体的智能-- 智能科学新视角

Also available in Japanese:

htb_japanese 知能の原理 ―身体性に基づく構成論的アプローチ―

Also available in French:

htb_french La Révolution de l'intelligence du corps

Also available in Arabic:

htb_arabic كيف يشكل الجسد. طريقة تفكيرنا. Arab Scientific Publishers, 2012 (ordering information will be available soon)

ShanghAI Lectures


The ShanghAI Lectures consist of several classroom meetings via videoconference. The Guest Lectures provide additional information to interesting AI topics.


As participating students you take part in the assignment program, where you are supposed to solve exercises about the content of the lecture in an international team. When you solved your submission, you can submit it on your group site.


You find your team members, your supervisor and your group's private wall under "My Group Board". You are welcome to use this website for your communication when you solve the exercies together with your group. This website provides different services like private messaging, chat and the interactive group board where you can post files or embedded media (e. g. youtube links) and share your thoughts. You may also want to join as avatars here: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Marybank/192/166


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