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My Research

Hi! I’m Anthony Francis, and I design intelligent machines and emotional robots, focusing on deep reinforcement learning for indoor robot navigation. My original research page details my thesis work on contextual memory. More recently, I’ve focused on robotics, first emotional robotics and later robot navigation. More information can be found in the subpages below:

I currently work for Robotics at Google, focusing on robotics for reinforcement learning and reinforcement learning for robotics. Our work involves making robot navigation more reliable using approaches that combine deep reinforcement learning, evolutionary computation, and “traditional” probabilistic motion planning approaches which were the snazzy new thing when I started my PhD work, and which still do the job pretty well now.

My PhD research focused on contextual memory: how implicit context helps us retrieve and use information more appropriately. This can include not just memory for facts, but memory for emotion: annotating experiences with the emotions they cause can be used to learn emotional responses that are appropriate for different situations.

My other research interests include programming language design, interactive fiction, natural language understanding, animal cognition, cognitive science, intelligent agents, and physics, particularly general relativity. For more information, check out the subpages, or read recent posts below:

Posts About Intelligence … Broadly Construed 🙂

A Bayesian Account of Miracles

Christianity is a tall ask for many skeptically-minded people, especially if you come from the South, where a lot of folks express Christianity in terms of having a close personal…

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The Soul is the Form of the Body

  If you’ve ever gone to a funeral, watched a televangelist, or been buttonholed by a street preacher, you’ve probably heard Christianity is all about saving one’s immortal soul –…

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Day 057

Alan Turing, rendered over my own roughs using several layers of tracing paper. I started with the below rough, in which I tried to pay careful attention to the layout…

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Free Will and the Halting Problem

Lent is when Christians choose to give things up or to take things on to reflect upon the death of Jesus. For Lent, I took on this self-referential series about…

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Jesus and Gödel

Yesterday I claimed that Christianity was following Jesus – looking at him as a role model for thinking, judging, and doing, stepping away from rules and towards principles, choosing good…

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Robots in Montreal

“Robots in Montreal,” eh? Sounds like the title of a Steven Moffat Doctor Who episode. But it’s really ICRA 2019 – the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation, and, yes,…

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I<tab-complete> welcome our new robot overlords.

Hoisted from a recent email exchange with my friend Gordon Shippey: Re: Whassap? Gordon: Sounds like a plan. (That was an actual GMail suggested response. Grumble-grumble AI takeover.) Anthony: I<tab-complete>…

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PRM-RL Won a Best Paper Award at ICRA!

So, this happened! Our team’s paper on “PRM-RL” – a way to teach robots to navigate their worlds which combines human-designed algorithms that use roadmaps with deep-learned algorithms to control…

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Why I’m Solving Puzzles Right Now

When I was a kid (well, a teenager) I’d read puzzle books for pure enjoyment. I’d gotten started with Martin Gardner’s mathematical recreation books, but the ones I really liked…

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Learning to Drive … by Learning Where You Can Drive

I often say “I teach robots to learn,” but what does that mean, exactly? Well, now that one of the projects that I’ve worked on has been announced – and…

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