We propose and develop a hierarchical approach to network control of complex tasks. In this approach, a low-level controller directs the activity of a “plant,” the system that performs the task. However, the low-level controller may be able to solve only fairly simple problems involving the plant. To accomplish more complex tasks, we introduce a higher-level controller that controls the lower-level controller. We use this system to direct an articulated truck to a specified location through an environment filled with static or moving obstacles. The final system consists of networks that have memorized associations between the sensory data they receive and the commands they issue. These networks are trained on a set of optimal associations generated by minimizing cost functions. Cost function minimization requires predicting the consequences of sequences of commands, which is achieved by constructing forward models, including a model of the lower-level controller. The forward models and cost minimization are used only during training, allowing the trained networks to respond rapidly. In general, the hierarchical approach can be extended to larger numbers of levels, dividing complex tasks into more manageable subtasks. The optimization procedure and the construction of the forward models and controllers can be performed in similar ways at each level of the hierarchy, which allows the system to be modified to perform other tasks or to be extended for more complex tasks without retraining lower-levels.

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