Making fingers and words count in a cognitive robot.
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Evidence from developmental as well as neuroscientific studies suggest that finger counting activity plays an important role in the acquisition of numerical skills in children. It has been claimed that this skill helps in building motor-based representations of number that continue to influence number processing well into adulthood, facilitating the emergence of number concepts from sensorimotor experience through a bottom-up process. The act of counting also involves the acquisition and use of a verbal number system of which number words are the basic building blocks. Using a Cognitive Developmental Robotics paradigm we present results of a modeling experiment on whether finger counting and the association of number words (or tags) to fingers, could serve to bootstrap the representation of number in a cognitive robot, enabling it to perform basic numerical operations such as addition. The cognitive architecture of the robot is based on artificial neural networks, which enable the robot to learn both sensorimotor skills (finger counting) and linguistic skills (using number words). The results obtained in our experiments show that learning the number words in sequence along with finger configurations helps the fast building of the initial representation of number in the robot. Number knowledge, is instead, not as efficiently developed when number words are learned out of sequence without finger counting. Furthermore, the internal representations of the finger configurations themselves, developed by the robot as a result of the experiments, sustain the execution of basic arithmetic operations, something consistent with evidence coming from developmental research with children. The model and experiments demonstrate the importance of sensorimotor skill learning in robots for the acquisition of abstract knowledge such as numbers.
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