Intelligent Design

They say that the human brain is the most complex of all living species on earth. Up to now, experts claim that they don’t fully know how the brain works (let alone the mind), and how different factors affect its development and function.

In artificial intelligence, what is mindboggling is that the approach to make robots or smart machines is based on how the human mind works. It is because on the premise that our species is in first place when it comes to solving complicated problems. But to build strong AI, this has posed a dilemma.

So Nouvelle AI enters the scene.

What is Nouvelle AI?

This AI type is a revolutionary subcategory within artificial intelligence. What is its approach is different from the traditional method of making virtual problem solvers. Its take on building strong AI is to mimic the brain of an insect, or how it basically works.

It may sound weird and pointless, but by looking at an evolutionary standpoint, developing this concept might be the next big thing in artificial intelligence. Future innovations in AI might propel with this kind of concept.

And it is what the proponents of this subtype are coming from. They believe that by creating a simple robot with a simple brain mechanism, these droids could develop intelligence organically by learning through their surroundings as they move and observe.

Symbolic AI vs Nouvelle AI

Instead of being preprogrammed how to do stuff, what to avoid and whatnot, the droids they make have no symbolic reasoning installed in them. They instead have sensors, and a numbered set of instructions which freely combine as it sees fit with the world around it. In symbolic artificial intelligence 101, robots are given their world view as the creators see fit.

Another problem with symbolic reasoning in artificial intelligence is that developers need to update, search and manipulate new data as it comes. It is deemed laborious and a memory chip could only handle as much data.

In nouvelle AI, robots as intelligent as bugs gain control of their “perspective.” This means that few factors are only tweaked and programmed for them to function, and they need little or no updates with their systems. It is because they are free to develop their behavior and function according to how they see their surroundings.

The Founder of Nouvelle AI

Hailing from the land down under is Rodney Brooks. He has worked for Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory. In the 1980s, he founded the Nouvelle AI ideology and approach to creating robots, through his observation with 2 prototypes (Freddy and Shakey),

His aim is to change 3 things in classical AI: a machine’s internal model, the frame problem, and the bodiless intelligence.

As discussed earlier (artificial intelligence 101 in previous paragraphs), the perspective or worldview of a robot is wholly constructed by programmers before the robot becomes live. By contrast, his approach is for his creations to develop their own internal model of their outside world through sensors.

In the frame problem, symbolic AI robots are regularly updated depending on their environment so they can function intelligently in the current conditions they are in. With his ideology, robots do not have to be updated because they develop behaviors and function by combining a few commands in their internal system.

Lastly, this kind of artificial intelligence has a precept of embodied intelligence, which means robots must have functional, mechanical bodies as they have software. Classical AI does not require such bodies for their smart machines.

Why Insects to Cite?

You might wonder why Brooks chose insects as his model for his pioneered AI type. His droids do not die on insecticide, but liquids may still pack an electrocutive punch to them.

Well, by logic, he might have chosen insects because they naturally have simple structured way of life, with intelligence levels inferior to some fellows in the animal kingdom such as octopuses and orangutans. But they notably have the most perplexing-but-it-works physical movements that bioengineers are eager to study and research on.

For example: the busy bee. Its body to wing ratio is far from perfect but the way it flaps its wings and how it sustains its hovering abilities is quite intriguing.  Another is the mighty ant. Its tiny body can lift up to 50 times their body weight.

Another reason might be because of limitations with recent technology. In artificial intelligence 101, we are aware that we have advanced tremendously in this digital age. However, we are still baby steps in decoding how an actual brain works, though we can go as far as how an insect’s mind behaves.

Rodney Brooks’ Creations

Is Brooks playing god with these machines? It looks like they have a mind of their own. Could they be the artificial intelligence future?


Allen Newell is Allen’s complete name. He’s imbued with ultrasonic sonars but he only has 3 modules programmed for his behavior. When his avoid-bumping-objects module is solely activated, he runs away from the moving object.


With the full name of Herbert A. Simon, Herbert takes in infrared technology with an avoid-obstacles module. He then started picking up soda cans (empty ones), which he developed the habit from 15 basically structured commands and allowed to be combined together. Brooks likened him into an ant’s movement.


Genghis is an insectoid droid with six mechanical legs for moving. He then successfully followed a human in a ragged and uneven ground.


Meanwhile, Squirt is programmed to hide in dimly-lit areas but comes out if he hears a noise and track where it comes from.


Cog is a humanoid robot. This project has attempted to go beyond Brooks’ research and basic premise: mimicking a human’s. Cog has a face, arms, and sensors, and is programmed to learn organically learn intelligence (akin to a child). The project, however, has stopped in 2003.

Wrap Up

Proponents and researchers had come a long with artificial intelligence. Future developments are even being made here and there. Yet have seen symbolic AI and its setbacks. We have seen the ambitious attempt of applying nouvelle artificial intelligence to humanoid droids.

Though they are emerging technologies being redeveloped and improved, we can say that some still get their ideas and models from nature itself, like in nouvelle artificial intelligence. What is important is that experts are finding all possible ways on how to put us into the next level of AI.

Further Reading