How Evolution May Work Through Curiosity-Driven Developmental Process

Oudeyer and Smith, 2016

Source: Oudeyer and Smith, 2016


  • Discusses similarities between curiosity-driven learning trajectories in robots and developmental trajectories in infants
  • Argues how these developmental structures can arise from evolution
  • Links: [ website ] [ pdf ]


  • Infants generally do not learn passively and are seemingly motivated towards “interesting” sensorimotor activities
  • Curiosity-driven learning can also be thought of as reducing uncertainty
  • Curiosity is only one of several motivational mechanisms operating within organisms, many motivations interact at any given time


  • Robotic experimental setup (see Oudeyer & Kaplan 2016 for more details):
    • Quadruped robot on infant play mat with “biteable” elephant, “bashable” hanging toy, and vocally imitating “teacher” robot
    • Motor primitives:
      • turning the head
      • opening/closing the mouth with varying strengths and timing
      • rocking the leg with varying angles and speed
      • vocalizing with varying pitches and lengths
    • Sensory primitives:
      • detect visual movement
      • salient visual properties,
      • proprioceptive touch in mouth
      • pitch and length of perceived sounds
    • Select action to maximize learning rate on predicting consequences of actions given sensory contexts


  • Refer to Oudeyer & Kaplan 2016 for detailed results and analysis
  • In general, this learning process results in a developmental trajectory with a mixture of regularities and diversities given similar intrinsic motivation mechanisms and environments
  • Self-organization (“universal” developmental phases):
    • Unorganized body babbling
    • Isolated random exploration of motor primitives
    • Directed non-affordant exploration towards objects
    • Affordance-based exploration of objects
  • However, even with the same mechanisms and parameters, individual trajectories may invert stages within a phase accounting for emergent differences among individuals


  • Results with vocalization suggests that language can be partially explained by general curiosity-driven exploration in addition to language-specific motivation
  • Curiosity-driven development is in between learned “tabula rasa” and innate “programs”, arising from the dynamic interaction between cognitive mechanisms, properties of the body, and the pysical and social environment
  • Evolutionary origins of intrinsic motivation can be explained by maximizing long-term fitness in rapidly changing environments, which rewards learning over domain-specific adaptations
  • Structures learned through curiosity can later be recruited for unforeseen functions
  • Weighting of motivational mechanisms (e.g. curiosity, hunger, mating) may account for observed species-typical development
    • Understanding how curiosity competes and complements these other forms of motivation is an interesting research direction
Elias Z. Wang
Elias Z. Wang
AI Researcher | PhD Candidate