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"I can remember when the first pulsars were discovered. I was able to go and sit down and listen to graduate students talking about what their theories, to explain what pulsars really were."
- Vernor Vinge

Learning Robot  
  A robot that learns from its own experiences.  

Callahan is a research cybernetician; he creates little wheelies - robots able to move around and learn about their environment.

"...they're supposed to have complete freedom of choice. I want their graphite-gel circuits to experience anything... they're machines with flexible memory circuits and feedback controls, and they're very impressionable."

"...they're motivated first by a random device and then they learn. The lines of connection in the graphite-gel that turn out the most successful remain like a printed circuit and then if occasion arises, they overprint them. My whole idea is to get away from a machine with a set of prearranged instructions, and let them teach themselves by trial and error."

From Callahan and the Wheelies, by Stephen Barr.
Published by Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1960
Additional resources -

Here's another quote from the story that gives more details:

...in the actual living animal brain, the whole system of synapses, neurons and connecting fibers was there to start with, and repeated activity would produce useful patterns, but with the wheelies' undifferentiated mass of semi-conducting graphite-gel it was more like the lining up of polarized particles in a magnetic field.

Compare this idea with the Thorsen memory tube from Robert Heinlein's 1956 novel Door Into Summer.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Callahan and the Wheelies
  More Ideas and Technology by Stephen Barr
  Tech news articles related to Callahan and the Wheelies
  Tech news articles related to works by Stephen Barr

Learning Robot-related news articles:
  - Robot Learns To Smile
  - DiGORO Robot Learns By Watching Humans
  - Robots Learn Language Via Random Syllabic Babble
  - Baxter Robot Learns From Fellow Workers
  - Robot Teaches Itself To Walk

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