Global exchange at the Computation and Cognition Lab

Each summer a few undergraduate research assistants join the lab to learn, first-hand, about our work and to gain research experience prior to graduate school. Last summer Sachith Cheruvatur joined us from NYU Abu Dhabi as part of the NYU Global Network University initiative. Sachith is a sophomore philosophy major at NYUAD but also has an interest in computational cognitive science. During his time in the lab, Sachith helped to develop a new class for psychology majors at NYU on the relationship between robotics, neuroscience, and the human mind which is being taught currently. Sachith was kind enough to share a few thoughts about his experience. Hopefully his summary will be useful to other students wanting to learn about the lab and what we do.

During the summer after my freshman year I wanted to find an internship at a cognitive science lab to try and find out first hand what its like to work in the field. Professor Gureckis’ affiliations were cognition and perception and his lab computation and cognition seemed really interesting. The lab mainly researches cognitive processes like memory, learning and decision-making. I emailed professor Gureckis asking if I could work at his lab over summer and he let me work with him for 8 weeks. It was really quite inspiring to sit in on their lab meetings and see for myself how the graduate students and the professors, discussed experiments, made inferences, critiqued each others ideas and made futures plans on what to do next. The lab nurtures a very productive environment with a really friendly atmosphere. I got along well with everyone within the first few days of working at the lab and the faculty and students seem to understand each other quite well.

Professor Gureckis wanted to combine two of his passions, robotics and psychology, and create an environment for students to conduct psychology experiments using robots to understand the two areas better – the science of experimentation in psychology and a peek into robotics. This course would give the students a taste of what its like to reverse engineer the human mind by experimenting with robot subjects and reverse engineering their inner workings. To help him create this course, I helped find the required robot, assembled it and created a couple of programs to perform certain tasks. He provided me with academic papers that dealt with similar topics and a book by Valentino Braitenberg called ‘vehicles’ which I used to create programs for the robot to execute. This was my first proper introduction to robotics and it was really nice to explore it on my own using the libraries, the internet and shops like RadioShack. I finally assembled a robot with an Arduino microchip and programmed it to perform simple maneuvers, respond to sound and calculate small distances.

As a final part of my project, I gave a sample class to the Cognition summer class. Under professor Gureckis’ guidance I gathered the required reading material for the class and the created the required handouts for the experiment we were going to conduct on that day. The students tried to reverse engineer the light seeking robot and find out how the behavior of the robot emerged from the simple wiring of the circuitry.

Overall, it was an amazing learning experience that involved diving into a new field, a lot of hands-on work and a bit of programing. It gave me the much-needed taste of some multidisciplinary work.