A Minimal Intervention Principle for Coordinated Movement

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 15 (NIPS 2002)

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Emanuel Todorov, Michael Jordan


Behavioral goals are achieved reliably and repeatedly with movements rarely reproducible in their detail. Here we offer an explanation: we show that not only are variability and goal achievement compatible, but indeed that allowing variability in redundant dimensions is the optimal control strategy in the face of uncertainty. The optimal feedback control laws for typical motor tasks obey a “minimal intervention” principle: deviations from the average trajectory are only corrected when they interfere with the task goals. The resulting behavior exhibits task-constrained variabil- ity, as well as synergetic coupling among actuators—which is another unexplained empirical phenomenon.