The machine in the ghost Machines for
intelligent ghosts?

Grand Challenge 5 (GC-5)
Architecture of Brain and Mind

Integrating high level cognitive processes with brain mechanisms and functions in a working robot.

Grand Challenge 5 (GC-5)
Architecture of Brain and Mind
Integrating high level cognitive processes with
brain mechanisms and functions in a working robot.


The Future of GC 5

REVISED: 12 May 2010
The following statement was posted here early in 2010:
It seems to the existing GC-5 committee members that there is no longer a need for a UK-based research grand challenge initiative of this sort since the idea is now understood world-wide, and in particular the EU has made large amounts of money available for interdisciplinary research on cognition, both natural and artificial.

If anyone would like to make a proposal to UKCRC to continue this initiative, please contact the current coordinator Aaron Sloman to discuss options.
Email address: A.Sloman [AT]

Since then, Prof Leslie Smith of the University of Stirling has agreed to take over the coordination of GC5, and the web site, which has been relocated here.

This web site will remain, for the time being, as a record of the first seven years of GC5.
Aaron Sloman

Report on AIIB Symposiuam (AI-Inspired Biology)

A report on the two-day symposium held on 31stMarch-1stApril as part of AISB 2010 is here, including papers, abstracts and some of the presentations. Additional papers and presentations will be added as they become available.


2008 Presentation on GC5

A brief presentation on GC5 given by Professor Steve Furber at the
2008 Grand Challenges conference in March 2008 is available online
in two formats: The first summary of the challenge was written by Professor Mike Denham, who initially chaired the GC5 committee, in 2003:

(Not all explicitly related to GC5, though partly or wholly inspired by it.)


Introduction - What this is about.

The UK Computing Grand Challenges Initiative
The mission statement for the UK Computing Research Committee (UKCRC) includes:
The UKCRC aims to promote the vitality, quality and impact of Computing Research in the UK.

In October 2002, under the auspices of UKCRC, Tony Hoare and Robin Milner initiated discussions of "grand challenge" research projects in computing. A web site for the initiative was set up here:

Seven main proposals came out of those discussions, listed here: here (GC-1 to GC-7):

That file includes pointers to summaries of each proposal produced earl in 2003, along with archives of discussion lists for each proposal, and an 'overview' or 'master' discussion list, GC-0. It was important that these were primarily scientific research projects aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding rather than practical engineering projects aiming to serve a useful purpose, although it was expected that advances in scientific understanding would inevitably lead to important new engineering advances.

Conferences were held in 2004 to discuss progress and make plans for promoting and extending the Grand Challenges initiative. As a result of continuing discussions during 2004 a booklet edited by Tony Hoare and Robin Milner was published by the British Computer Society (BCS) in 2004, summarising the current grand challenge proposals.

At the conference in 2006, additional challenges were added listed here. That web page also specified a procedure for proposing further grand challenge projects.

This web site: Grand Challenge 5
This web site is about one of the challenges that emerged from the original discussions, "GC-5: Architecture of Brain and Mind". It is concerned with a multidisciplinary attempt to understand and model natural intelligence at various levels of abstraction, demonstrating results of our improved understanding in a succession of increasingly sophisticated working robots. The booklet mentioned above included a four page summary of GC-5 (also available in PDF format.)

This extremely ambitious project brings together work in neuroscience, cognitive science, various areas of AI, linguistics, philosophy, biology, and other relevant disciplines, so as to produce a new integrated theory of how a single functioning system can combine many human capabilities, including various kinds and levels of perception, different kinds of reasoning, planning, problem solving, curiosity, many varieties of learning (including grasping new abstract concepts and developing new fluent skills), many kinds of action of varying complexity, different uses of language, varieties of affect, including motivation and emotions, social interaction, and various forms of creativity.

Current robots can perform many tasks but each one is capable of only a very limited range of behaviours. Usually they do not combine perceptual and manipulative skills with the ability to communicate and cooperate, and they do not know what they are doing, why they are doing it, what difference it would make if they did things in a different way, etc., and they cannot give help or advice to another robot or a person performing such tasks. They do not have the variety of competences, the integration, or the self-understanding of a 4 to 5 year old (or child (or even a much younger child that can move about manipulate things, and interact with other people, not necessarily using language) and current robots can barely learn anything a child can learn.

Robots produced within this grand challenge project should at least have an interesting subset of the capabilities of a child aged somewhere between 2 and 5, including the ability to go on learning, and the ability (some of the time) to understand what they are doing and why. One way for such a robot to demonstrate all of that functionality would be being capable of helping a disabled person who wishes to avoid being dependent on other humans, at least around the house, without the robot first having to be programmed explicitly with knowledge about that house and its contents, and that person's needs and preferences.

Gaps in our knowledge
The summary of GC-5 in the 2004 booklet listed some of the gaps in our knowledge. Many processes in brains and minds are not yet understood, including how we:

These all involve both abstract mental processes and concrete physical processes. The project aims to explain how both kinds of processes work, and to demonstrate this in robots with a large collection of human-like capabilities, unlike current robots which are very limited in what they can do.

Implementation in biological mechanisms
The aim of this grand challenge, is not merely to understand how such diverse functions can be integrated in single system at a high level of abstraction which might be modelled on computers or future information processing machines, but also to explain how they can be implemented in actual biological mechanisms. So an aim of the project is to continue developing our understanding of brain mechanisms (e.g. chemical, neural, etc. mechanisms) including showing how those mechanisms are able to support the high level functionality required by a child or robot. For this purpose, natural minds can be viewed as virtual machines implemented in brains. Since human minds surpass artificial minds in many ways at present, we may discover that this is partly due to using a different kind of physical implementation from current computers. There could be other reasons: it may be that our current designs for AI systems are simply far too simple because we have not yet understood what kinds of functionality they need nor what kinds of architectures, forms of representation and algorithms can provide those kinds of functionality in an integrated system.

Concurrent top-down, bottom-up and middle-out
Instead of taking sides on debates over whether it is best to use a top-down or bottom-up research strategy (i.e. starting from high level cognitive functions and trying to model them using any available mechanisms, or starting by trying to model biological information processing mechanisms in human or animal brains and then later using those mechanisms to implement higher level functions), the recommendation of GC-5 is that both extremes and hybrid versions should be pursued in parallel, with researchers of all kinds engaging in rich communication. A major feature of the top-down approach is the attempt to clarify the requirements to be met by the mechanisms produced in the bottom-up approach. At the same time, work on the mechanisms may help to clarify constraints on possible ways of meeting the requirements. top-down/bottom-up

Three parallel activities
The 2004 summary of GC-5 stated that several mutually-informing tasks will be pursued concurrently:

Task 1
Bottom-up specification, design, and construction of a succession of computational models of brain function, at various levels of abstraction, designed to support as many as possible of the higher level functions identified in other tasks.

Task 2 Codification and analysis, partly from a software engineering viewpoint, of many typical, widely-shared, human capabilities, for instance those shared by young children, including perceptual, motor, communicative, emotional and learning capabilities, and using them:

(a) to specify a succession of increasingly ambitious design goals for a fully functioning (partially) human-like system,
(b) to generate questions for researchers studying humans and other animals which may generate new empirical research leading to new design goals.
Task 3
Top down development of a new theory of the kinds of architectures capable of combining all the many information-processing mechanisms operating at different levels of abstraction, and testing of the theory by designing and implementing a succession of increasingly sophisticated working models, each version adding more detail.

Why focus on the capabilities of a young child?
The 2004 summary summary of GC-5 stated:

As a 15 to 20 year target we propose demonstration of a robot with some of the general intelligence of a young child, able to learn to navigate a typical home and perform a subset of domestic tasks, including some collaborative and communicative tasks. Unlike current robots it should know what it is doing and why, and be able to cooperate with or help others, including discussing alternative ways of doing things. Linguistic skills should include understanding and discussing simple narratives about things that can happen in its world, and their implications, including some events involving capabilities, motives and feelings of humans. The robot could be tested in various practical tasks, including helping a seriously disabled or blind person cope without human help. This long-term target will be broken down into a large collection of sub-goals, with different subsets used to define intermediate milestones for judging progress. Achieving all this will require major scientific advances in the aforementioned disciplines, especially if one of the sub-goals is production of biologically plausible mechanisms capable of supporting the robot's functionality.

Success could also provide the foundation for a variety of practical applications in many industries, in unmanned space exploration, in education, and in the ever-growing problem of caring for disabled or blind persons wishing to lead an active life without being totally dependent on human helpers. Perhaps some people reading this will welcome such a helper one day.

Although many practical applications are possible, the primary goal is to increase our understanding of the nature and variety of natural and artificial information-processing systems. This is likely to influence many areas of research including psychology, psychiatry, ethology, linguistics, social science and philosophy. It could transform ideas about education.

Although there are many different forms of research that would contribute to the aims of GC-5, the proposal to aim for an integrated system with the capabilities of a young child was motivated by the following observations:

Dependence on multiple disciplines
The 2004 summary also pointed out that although this was proposed as a grand challenge in computing research, because it was concerned with understanding very complex kinds of information processing systems, including both physical machines and virtual machines that process information, it depended on close interaction between researchers in several disciplines, including.

No earmarked funding was allocated for the grand challenge projects. Instead it was left to proposers making use of standard grant proposal procedures to submit procedures, referring, where appropriate, to the grand challenge documents to legitimise what might otherwise be regarded as extremely risky or over-ambitious projects.

The euCognition network

As part of the European Commisions Framework 6 Cognitive systems initiative, a network was set up, namely the euCognition network, to promote and coordinate research in Cognitive Systems with goals overlapping with GC5, but emphasising the potential for applications, e.g. in intelligent robotics. This network's activities end at the end of 2008, but it is likely that there will be a follow-on EU network in this general area.

In addition to funding workshops and conferences, the network set up a web site with a 'wiki', to which members and others could contribute. Examples relevant to GC5 include pages on:


Current Committee (From Sept 2008)
Aaron Sloman (University of Birmingham)
Anthony Cohn (Leeds University)
Patrick Courtney (Perkin Elmer)
Ron Chrisley (Sussex University)
Jim Cunningham (Imperial College, London)
Steve Furber (Manchester University)
Mark Lee (University of Wales, Aberystwyth)
Stephen Muggleton (Imperial College, London
Murray Shanahan (Imperial College, London)
Graham White (Queen Mary, London)
We would like to expand the committee to include people from a number of related disciplines especially individuals who have ideas about promoting GC5, including organising workshops, etc. and are willing to take action, with the support of members of the committee.
Anyone with suggestions should write to Aaron Sloman at A.Sloman [AT]
There are already plans for a conference to be held in 2010. Details will be announced later.
Previous membership
Initially GC-5 was led by Mike Denham, who produced the first report on discussions of the proposal early in 2003. After that Aaron Sloman became the moderator, until the end of 2004. Discussions were mainly conducted through an email list described below an in addition a meeting of interested people was held in January 2004.

In January 2005, the UKCRC appointed the following as a committee to steer this grand challenge:

Murray Shanahan (Imperial College, London)
Mike Denham (Plymouth University)
Steve Furber (Manchester University)
Mark Lee (University of Wales, Aberystwyth)
Aaron Sloman (University of Birmingham)

Press releases and press reports

Some Overview Documents

Related Initiatives (Especially in the EU)

The European Commission decided as part of FP 6 to fund a related initiative entitled 'Cognitive Systems' and allocated a sum of about 25M euro. The objectives were similar but funding was for relatively short projects e.g. up to about four years. Over 70 proposals were submitted by the deadline of October 15 2003. Funded projects, which began in September 2004 are listed here. One of those is euCOGNITION: European Network for the Advancement of Artificial Cognitive Systems. This aims to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines working on cognitive systems. This network funded the GC-5 symposium at AISB'06 in Bristol in April 2006. It includes a Research Roadmap initiative that is very closely related to GC-5, although it explicitly aims to contribute to applications whereas the aims of GC-5 are solely concerned with advancing science (though many applications are bound to follow from scientific advances in this area).

Projects within the EU Cognitive Systems initiative pursue a significant subset of the GC-5 challenge task, including the CoSy project, which is concerned with combining multiple functions within a robot.

The following year a much larger sum of money was available from the EU for research in this area and several more projects started, now included in the list of projects.

For the following FP 7 initiative, beginning in 2007, the multidisciplinary cognitive systems research was significantly extended (though it is hard to discover this from the UK web site on FP7!) Further information on the Cognitive Systems initiative in FP7 is in the Work Programme document available here. Challenge 2 is entitled: Cognitive Systems, Interaction, Robotics, described in more detail here (PDF).

Much information about the EU cognitive systems initiative can be found in presentations here, especially presentations by Colette Maloney.

The DARPA Cognitive Systems initiative in the USA and the UK DTI Foresight Cognitive Systems initiative are also closely related. Similar ideas are emerging in Japan, e.g. see the news item about Professor Kawato below.

However, the EU and DARPA initiatives were not (at least when they started) formulated in terms of relating cognitive systems to neuroscience, and to that extent are narrower than the proposal we are discussing. The Foresight initiative did not adopt integration of multiple kinds of functionality in a single working system (e.g. a robot) as a desirable goal.

Owen Holland's Anthropomimetic robots project is directly relevant to GC-5.

'Our claim is that humanoid robots should be designed using human-like principles, and we believe this approach needs a new name: anthropomimetic robotics.' His web site has amazing pictures of the Cronos robot, and a movie showing the arm in action, under remote control.

The Walking with robots project

EPSRC-funded project whose aim is to promote public awareness of and interest in robotics. The project will organise presentations, demonstrations, and debates involving a dozen of the UK's leading robotics researchers.

Documents about Proposal GC-5 'Architecture of Brain and Mind'
(Latest first)

Background: The November 2002 Workshop

A workshop was held at the University of Edinburgh, on 24-26 November 2002 organised by Tony Hoare and Robin Milner to discuss possible 'Grand Challenge' projects in Computer Science (and AI).

Information about the workshop is available here, including the background to the workshop, the first stage outcomes and an invitation to submit comments on the proposals.

A report on the workshop is available here (PDF file).

Several proposals emerged from the workshop. A list of all the proposals, and some that emerged later, is here: (with pointers to the archives of email discussions on each proposal).

One of them was GC-5: Architecture of brain and mind.

This web page is about that Grand Challenge proposal. It also points to other related things.

Initially discussion on GC-5 was led by Professor Mike Denham, but by May 2003 Mike found that he was too busy to continue as 'moderator' so Aaron Sloman was asked to take his place, though Mike continued to support the initiative. Later, in January 2005, Professor Murray Shanahan agreed to lead the initiative.

Following several months of discussion by the various grand challenge teams, a report dated, 29th May 2003, was presented to UK CRC, which endorsed the report. It was publicly circulated by Robin Milner on 6th June 2003. A plain text version is here. This proposed ongoing discussions in parallel of the various proposals, leading up to a conference to be held the following year eventually scheduled for in March 2004 in Newcastle.

NEWS ITEMS (Latest first)

10 Apr 2008

New presentation
The presentation on GC5 given by Professor Steve Furber at the 2008 Grand Challenges conference is now available online in two formats:
Committee changes
Murray Shanahan has stepped down as Chair of the GC-5 committee. Aaron Sloman has agreed to act as chair, for the time being.
The Committee has been enlarged and will be looking for new members from several disciplines related to GC5. (Suggestions to Aaron Sloman please.) The current membership is listed here.

30 Dec 2006

Web site completely re-vamped.

Information available about FP7 Work programme, which overlaps significantly with GC-5.
See especially challenge 2 in the work programme:

Challenge 2: Cognitive Systems, Interaction, Robotics

1 Jul 2006

The report on the 2006 Grand Challenges conference is available
including the latest report on discussion of GC-5 at the conference:

April 2006

A two day symposium on GC-5 was held on 3-4 April 2006 as part of the AISB'06 Conference in Bristol. Sponsored by the EU-funded euCognition network.
SSAISB (The Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour), is the oldest AI society, formed in 1964, and is one of the two main UK AI societies. The other is SGAI (The BCS Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence).

30-31 July 2005: IJCAI-05

A tutorial on Learning and Representation in Animals and Machines was held at the Nineteenth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Sponsored by BT, IBM, SSAISB and InferMed.

There is now also a booklet with the notes and and some of the slides from the tutorial.

March 2005

A booklet edited by Tony Hoare and Robin Milner presenting the Computing Research Grand Challenges was Published in 2004.

A booklet on Computing Education Grand Challenges was also published, edited by Andrew McGettrick, Roger Boyle, Roland Ibbett, John Lloyd, Gillian Lovegrove and Keith Mander.

31 Mar 2004

A web site for links to related work has been created by Aladdin Ayesh. (NOW DEFUNCT)

27 Feb 2004

Poster on architectures for Royal Institution meeting on emotions, Friday 27 Feb 2004

26 Feb 2004

Grand Challenges Conference at Newcastle (29-31 March)

24 Jan 2004

Message about outcome of January workshop Sent to mailing list.

24 Jan 2004:

Considerable reorganisation of this web site This includes moving some of the previous contents into two separate files:

23 Jan 2004:

Documentation on January workshop updated Including the list of relevant links.

5th Jan 2004:

Workshop on GC-5 held at De Montfort University in Leicester

31 Dec 2003:

List of relevant links started

2 Dec 2003: GC-5 Workshop planned for Monday 5th Jan 2004

A workshop to discuss this grand challenge is planned for Monday 5th January at DeMontfort University in Leicester. The local organiser is Aladdin Ayesh, Further details are available here and will be updated from time to time.

This workshop is intended, in part, to help those who wish to submit papers relating to Cognitive Systems or Cognitive Science to the Grand Challenges conference being organised by Tony Hoare and Robin Milner in Newcastle, on March 29-31 2004, co-located with the CPHC annual conference. Details about that conference can be found here.

The Newcastle conference will be concerned with all the proposed grand challenges. 2000-word submissions to that conference are invited from interested researchers. Deadline for submissions is 1st February.

23 Oct 2003

Hjalmar Gislason has posted comments on some of the grand challenges, including GC-5 at his 'Wetware' blogsite, here:

Oct 2003 CACM article

The latest issue of Communications of the ACM (October 2003) has an article by Hans Moravek on why the time is right for a new attack on the problem of designing an intelligent robot. He includes a partial analysis of some of the reasons for earlier failures. Some of his arguments about what will be possible in the future depend on claims about the computational needs of brains which some people may think are based on assumptions about how brains work that might be wrong.

26 Sep 2003: Report in Computing

Following a press briefing on grand challenge projects at the British Computer Society London, a few days ago, a report has appeared in Computing:

11 Sep 2003: Two new items today.

21 Aug 2003: Japanese 'Grand Challenge' project.

Owen Holland has drawn my attention to this report on a very similar grand challenge proposal in Japan announced in Japan times on 20th August 2003
"Japanese researchers in robot technology are advocating a grand project, under which the government would spend 50 billion yen a year over three decades to develop a humanoid robot with the mental, physical and emotional capacity of a 5-year-old human."

20 Aug 2003: Draft press release for GC-5.

A draft press-release describing our Grand Challenge proposal can be found here

16 Jul 2003: Draft document on gaps in knowledge

A draft document attempts to identify some of the major kinds of gaps in our understanding of requirements for modelling or explaining human intelligence: i.e gaps in our knowledge of what needs to be explained. See this overview.

13 Jul 2003: Document on ontologies and affordances added.

Some comments on the need to understand perception of affordances, based partly on a video of a 19 month old child.

2 Jul 2003: EU Cognitive Systems call details

Original Word file
PDF version from EU web site
HTML version produced by Open Office (with minor post editing)

There is also a presentation given by Colette Maloney of the EU on 20th June:

Powerpoint version
PDF produced by Open Office (
This is essential reading.

25 Jun 2003: Rapidly Changing Neural Connectivity.

Added some notes on this topic and its potential significance for novel mechanisms under-pinning human intelligence.

23 Jun 2003:

Michael Kenward's article on the UK Foresight Cognitive Systems project.

17 June 2003: Change of UKCRC GC URL

Owing to problems at the Glasgow site, all URLs starting with
have now been replaced with the following prefix:

14th May 2003:

Presentation on GC-5 to a UK Foresight Cognitive Systems workshop on grand challenges in London. The slides are here:
(Revised on 23 May 2003).

How to join the email list for GC-5

Anyone who would like to join the discussion email list for Grand Challenge 5 should send a one-line message:


Use 'unsubscribe' if you wish to leave the list later. The email archives are here

This site is maintained by Aaron Sloman
Originally created 2003
Last updated: 17 Apr 2010