Evolving Imitating Agents and the Emergence of a Neural Mirror System

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5 Author(s)

Imitation is a highly complex cognitive process, employing vision, perception, representation, memory and motor control. The underlying mechanisms that give rise to imitative behavior have attracted a lot of attention in recent years and have been the subject of research in various disciplines, from neuroscience to animal behavior and human psychology. In particular, studies in monkeys and humans have discovered a neural mirror system that demonstrates an internal correlation between the representations of perceptual and motor functionalities. In contradistinction to previous engineering-based approaches, we focus on the evolutionary origins of imitation and present a novel framework for studying the emergence of imitative behavior. We successfully develop evolutionary adaptive autonomous agents that spontaneously demonstrate imitative learning, facilitating a comprehensive study of the emerging underlying neural mechanisms. Interestingly, some of these agents are found to embody a neural “mirror” device analogous to those identified in biological systems. Further analysis of these agents' networks reveals complex dynamics, combining innate perceptual-motor coupling with acquired context-action associations, to accomplish the required task.