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Learning Autonomic Robots 193

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hunting-for-juice dept.
Daath writes "The 27th of March, Professor Noel Sharkey et al starts a colony of living robots. 15 predators and 6 prey. It's an experiment in artificial evolution out of the Creative Robotics Unit at Magna. Here's a quote: 'The Living Robots have one goal, to obtain enough energy to survive and breed. The prey find their food from light sensors within the arena, while the predators feed off prey by stalking and chasing them before sucking away their power.' Magna has two articles, 'Predator and Prey Robots set up home at Magna' and 'Ground breaking Robotics experiment previewed'. "
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Learning Autonomic Robots

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  • Isn't this a little generous? One of the properties exclusive to living things is reproducing on their own. I doubt the robots are able to do this, but perhaps with AI advances, etc. in the future, who knows?
    • According to the article, the ‘evolution’ is in their behaviour. “Guests will witness the robots in their natural environment, fighting for survival, learning and evolving as time goes on.”.

      There is no breeding or natural selection, by the looks of it. Calling it ‘evolution’ is stretching things a little bit.
      • I should have said no physical breeding/evolution/natural selection.
      • Re:Living Robots? (Score:2, Informative)

        by Atrahasis (556602)
        Have you read both articles? The robits breed by uploading their "genes" (control strategies) to a central computer. If they survive past a certain age, then all of the surviving robots get paired off randomly, and their control strategies are randomly mixed, with an added random mutation. The new generation of robots is then assigned new control regimes from those generated. Its a study in evolutionary behaviour, and not physical change.

        Is anybody else a little bit wary of the third evolution thread in a few days?

        • I like that at the end of the article, they discredit the entire program, by saying that the robots "may just wander around aimlessly until their batteries wear out".

          That's great, wouldn't it be cheaper to simulate all this activity first?

          This seems like a tremendous waste of time to me. Do we really think that by using "neural nets" that something magic will happen?

          -DF
        • Re:Living Robots? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Ubi_NL (313657) <joris&ideeel,nl> on Friday February 08, 2002 @12:14PM (#2974531) Journal
          then all of the surviving robots get paired off randomly

          ...which makes this pretty stupid. The whole idea of evolution is built upon "selection" i.e. the robot that does best has most offspring. Just looking at survival rate is a measure for measuring fitness, but it's too crude a method for improving ones genes. Besides that now every surviving bot has the same amount of fitness (offspring). That seems to be some binary kind of selection which I at least have never come across in real life. Randomly mixing genes is therefore 'not' a good method to mimick nature.
          • Re:Living Robots? (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Black Parrot (19622)


            > ...which makes this pretty stupid. The whole idea of evolution is built upon "selection" i.e. the robot that does best has most offspring. Just looking at survival rate is a measure for measuring fitness, but it's too crude a method for improving ones genes. Besides that now every surviving bot has the same amount of fitness (offspring). That seems to be some binary kind of selection which I at least have never come across in real life. Randomly mixing genes is therefore 'not' a good method to mimick nature.

            I can't see his site, but it may be the case that he's not trying to mimic nature. What you describe above is very conventional in the field of genetic algorithms, and it works very well for many types of problems; it's inspired by biological evolution, but it's not a model of biological evolution.

            Back to a couple of your specific comments:

            > Just looking at survival rate is a measure for measuring fitness, but it's too crude a method for improving ones genes.

            No, it works quite well for very many problems. You should be able to find a simulator you can download from the internet to demonstrate this.

            > Besides that now every surviving bot has the same amount of fitness (offspring).

            For genetic algorithms, 'fitness' is rarely measured by the number of offspring. For evolving agents it is usually measured by the score at performing some task, or sometimes by bare survival in some environment. And letting them all have the same amount of children is no problem, because it maintains some diversity in the genome.

            Sometimes experimenters do let the highest scorers make more babies, but that is not necessary to a GA. I usually keep the best 10% of the population (or 50%, if resource limitations make me use a small population), and I let each of the keepers make an equal amount of babies with randomly selected partners until the population is filled out again. This works, in practice.

            [And thank you oh-so-much for bringing this topic up, because while writing the paragraph above I think a bug in my latest simulator occured to me!]

  • I wonder how many Matrix comments this article will receive.
  • Viable population? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DotComVictim (454236) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:34AM (#2974258)
    Wouldn't you need more prey than predators to obtain a viable population? This would be much cooler as well if both predators and prey could mate with their own species, i.e exchange randomization factors for their strategies. Then the best would survive, and the dead (drained) could be recycled as offspring.
    • The article does say that robots that survive to a certain maturity get to download their randomisation factors to a "breeding" server
    • Yep. Look at the programes that simulate using maths the prey/predetor relationships.. with a predator > prey mix the predators won't survive as they will all be competing for too few resources.
    • I believe that one of the traits Noel is hoping will emerge is hunting in packs - he admits that if this happens it will take a very long time to learn, but this may explain the large number of predators.

      As for your idea of mating, I think that this would be very interesting. However, this is more of a GA approach to learning, whereas Noel is mostly interested in the learning of MLPs within the same generation - that is his field of research.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I believe that one of the traits Noel is hoping will emerge is hunting in packs - he admits that if this happens it will take a very long time to learn, but this may explain the large number of predators.
        Related idea, here [utexas.edu] is a paper by a guy who evolved neural-network controllers for a simulator to do just that. (Look at the bottom one in the list.)
      • I suppose that might work then, but doesn't anyone see the problem with setting up *any* scientific experiment hoping to get a certain result? Not being a Cretinist I don't believe evolution set up life on Earth in order to get a fixed result.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      But then you're 'designing' an evolutionary process, which is not part of the evolutionary process. You have to leave this sort of thing to chance. I.E. - Let one of the robots randomly regenerate itself as an 'offspring.' Can't be done you say? Neither can evolution in nature.

      But if you just want to design AN evolutionary process, not the one you claim nature is all about, then by all means, go for it. It might yield some very interesting results.

    • by gorilla (36491) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:56AM (#2974424)
      It depends on the relative food source/requirements. We normally consider 'predators' to be large animals, which mean a lot of prey, but if you think about it, there are instances where the ratio is reversed. One cow can support thousands of fleas, ticks and other small beasties.
      • by Atrahasis (556602) on Friday February 08, 2002 @12:10PM (#2974499) Homepage
        In which case the predator is not a predator, but a parasite. What will determine this is whether the predators drain the power from the prey

        a) until their own battery is full
        b)until the prey battery is empty
        c)Until their own battery is full, and then discharge the rest to kill off the prey.

        I don't know if varying feeding time is part of their program, but I hope it is, otherwise thew experiment means very little.

        Also, what happens if a predator catches a meal while it is under one of the lights?

        • by mjh (57755)
          I don't know if varying feeding time is part of their program, but I hope it is, otherwise thew experiment means very little.

          Uhh... why? If the purpose of the project is to demonstrate a particular characteristic of a biological ecosystem, then trying to artifically replicate as much of that ecosystem as possible is critical. If, on the other hand, you're trying to engineer a different ecosystem based on some basic rules from an existing ecosystem, then an identical reproduction doesn't matter.

          The situation is similar to studying birds in order to understand flight. For a long time we assumed that the only way to fly was to try and identically replicate the flight of birds - i.e. flapping wings. It was only when we started to understand the basic components of flight - that the shape of the wing allowed the exploitation of the bernouli principle - that humans began to fly. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there is no flapping wing aparatus that can enable human flight. In other words, the most effective way towards human engineered flight was to eliminate some of the factors in biological evolved flight.

          So, even if this experiment isn't a complete biological replication, it doesn't matter. It's simply studying one aspect of biology and intelligence in order to see what things are/aren't important in being able to engineer an intelligence.

          $.02

        • by BLAMM! (301082)
          No.
          The you replied to a post that (unfortunately) used parasites as an example but the poster was correct. A single cow can also feed dozens of foxes (foxen? foxi?), coyotes, and gee, humans. When was the last time you sat down to dinner and ate an entire cow?
          If this simulation is using more predators than prey then that is the ratio that is called for. I'm pretty sure the scientists that put this together know what they are doing since they were smart enough to build the robots in the first place.
      • We normally consider 'predators' to be large animals, which mean a lot of prey, but if you think about it, there are instances where the ratio is reversed.

        Sad but true [google.com].
    • > This would be much cooler as well if both
      > predators and prey could mate with their own
      > species, i.e exchange randomization factors for
      > their strategies.

      At this point, robots (hardware) to do this would make the experiment prohibive-- er, really expensive to do.

      Why not just hack up a x proggie that does the above, run it as a screen saver or something. Far far cheaper for two pixels to reproduce and create another data structure than to actually build machinery to do it. Personally, seems to me they're doing with this robots just for the eye candy factor (cuz it'll attract better money). If they really wanted to explore evolution, driving pixels would be more efficient all around.

      But then again that might not be so fun, as it's already been done [technosphere.org.uk]. ;)

      • Why not just hack up a x proggie that does the above, run it as a screen saver or something. Far far cheaper for two pixels to reproduce and create another data structure than to actually build machinery to do it. Personally, seems to me they're doing with this robots just for the eye candy factor (cuz it'll attract better money). If they really wanted to explore evolution, driving pixels would be more efficient all around


        It would be more cost efficient, but a lot of useful data might be lost. Robots that must interact with the real world have to deal with the messiness and uncertainty that it entails. e.g, a predator robot can lose track of its prey due to a faulty sensor, or an interfering signal, or its wheels might slip on the floor, thus allowing hte prey to escape. None of these would be present in the simulated world of the program you are suggesting. There's more to research with physical robots than "eye candy."
        • > or its wheels might slip on the floor, thus allowing hte prey to escape.

          Not trying to be argumentative, but can't programming duplicate random bad luck just as easily?

          I mean if random chance is the only difference between virtual and real (I know it's not but in the scope of this debate it is), that's still not striking me as a sound argument marking real world robots as a better option.

          Just playing devil's advocate, just seems to me that having complete control over the physics of the world would permit more variants/options in testing than real world mechanics.
    • Wouldn't you need more prey than predators to obtain a viable population?

      Only if the predator is bigger or needs more energy than the prey. This is the case for foxes and rabbits or wolves and sheep, but sometimes there are many more predators than preys. Consider the following pairs of preys and predators:

      • Dogs, cats and ticks
      • Humans and moskitos (although sometimes the human is the predator)
      • Slashdot and slashdotters

      It would have been more appropriate to call the robots "parasites" instead of "predators", because that's what they really are. Predators usually kill their preys. Parasites feed from their preys without killing them (usually). These robots behave more like parasites.

      • It would have been more appropriate to call the robots "parasites" instead of "predators", because that's what they really are...
        It would have been more appropriate to call the robots "parasites" instead of "predators", because that's what they really are.


        Not necessarily. Humans(cows, or buffalos, elephants and others if you want more active prey) and insects (think swarms of ants), for example, are smaller and need less energy than the prey they kill. But predators they are, and the prey is killed.

        There is no rule against having more, smaller predators killing bigger, scarcer prey. It seems actually quite successful in the human case. But it implies that the predator is either immensely superior in other physical attributes (can't think of any example) or it hunts socially (every example I can think of).

        I would be very skeptical if they say their predators are social animals, but also very interested in whatever results they get.
  • doh. Bad time for the prey I'd say. Doesn't this ratio somewhat make the experiment sound rather non-darwinistic ?
    • A LOT of things make this experiment non-darwinistic. For instance, can the robots reproduce? Do the predators also have their own predators?

      It's an experiment with a few goals, not to reproduce an entire (or most of the) evolutionary system.

      For instance, we don't even 100% truly, truly know why we are here, why we do those things. This experiment will neither help to find this answer, it's not close to the objective. So you could argue "The scientists are assuming that obtaining energy is a desirable goal, but we don't know for sure if it is".

      What this experiment MIGHT find out is if Artificial Intelligence is ready to reproduce some of the common sense among humans.
      • What this experiment MIGHT find out is if Artificial Intelligence is ready to reproduce some of the common sense among humans.

        Interesting concept, I'm sure that as soon as some humans can demonstrate they possess common sense, we'll be able to duplicate it in robots in no time. :)

  • by Britney (264065) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:35AM (#2974270)
    Apparently the prey and predators will be known affectionately as "dot.coms" and "venture capitalists" respectively.
    • IDK. I have to wonder after the dotbombs went bust whether or not it was the opposite...the dotcoms being the predators and the venture capitalists the unsuspecting prey...but that might just be the view from the outside...
  • 15 "predators" and only 6 "prey."

    The real problem is that, after the first week:

    • two of the "prey" realize they're hot stuff and grow attitudes
    • two of them put on the freshman 15
    • and the other two lock themselves in their rooms studying because they're having troubles keeping up with the workload.
  • The Living Robots have one goal, to obtain enough energy to survive and breed. Sounds like two goals to me. Why must everyone have but one goal nowadays?
  • There appears to be no physical evolution going on. I would think the prey species would pretty quickly select for a differently shaped power socket if physical evolution occurred.
  • Yay (Score:5, Funny)

    by NiftyNews (537829) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:38AM (#2974306) Homepage
    So we're teaching robots to teach themselves the best and most effective ways to kill things. Man, that's a great idea. Thanks, scientists!
  • already been done (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    so basically this is just an incredibly remedial version of DaisyWorld [pik-potsdam.de]. No news here.
  • The fact that they're adding a whole "stage show" where they're periodically removing and re-introducing the robots to their environment says to me there's essentially zero scientific usefulness to this project. It would be like trying to study the predator-prey dynamics of Lions and Gezelles at your local zoo.

    I've encountered about a half-dozen scientists in my time who seem to be more interested in public acclaim than actually doing useful work. They appear in Discover, Omni, etc., get spots on national news during slow weeks, and millions of people go "wow! what cool stuff these scientists are doing!". Problem is their work is never used by other scientists, and doesn't help to advance the field on iota.
    • by drew_kime (303965) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:58AM (#2974439) Homepage Journal
      Think of it like the team who found the Titanic. Roughly zero scientific learning, but the public interest in it brought in enough money to fund development of the remote vehicles. Once the cameras point to something else, they're left with some expensive new toys to use to do some real work.
      • There was archelogical interest in the Titanic. We discovered that it did break up before sinking in two distinct peices (The alternative theory being that it sunk almost whole), took samples which confirmed that the steel was brittle in the Atlantic enviroment, and even correcting the location of the titanic before it sunk, which answered questions about The Californian's ability to rescue Titanic passengers.
    • But maybe, just maybe this public exposure they're giving robotics will inspire some kid to go out and learn more and actually create soemthing useful.
    • Calling this an "experiment" or "science" is complete BS. This has no value. Anything you could learn from a robotic simulation of that nature, you could learn far more efficiently from a pure software simulation. This is clearly entertainment masquerading as science. Now, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be interesting to watch, but, for crying out loud, don't call it science!
  • Quote: "Guests will witness the robots in their natural environment, fighting for survival, learning and evolving as time goes on."

    What is a robot's "Natural" environment? And how do they mate and reproduce? (and do the guests get to watch this in the "natural environment" or do they have some privacy?)

    The experiment sounds cool, though it does seem to favor they predators...
    • Good point! A natural environment is a pretty loose term. How are the paramaters and limits defined?

      Incedently Noel Sharkey is one of the judges for Robot Wars (UK), could explain why he likes predators more.
    • They 'reproduce' by taking the programs evolved by the more successful robots and combining them - pretty standard GP stuff, really. Those new programs are then fed back into the environment and allowed to evolve some more.
    • My guess is that the batteries have a fairly short life. This way the Predators will drop off fairly quickly during the half hour show. Makes me wonder if the Predators are just going to swarm the prey and the Predators that don't find prey will die from loss of power.
  • Artificial Life (Score:3, Informative)

    by MoobY (207480) <anthony@lie[ ]s.net ['ken' in gap]> on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:39AM (#2974314) Homepage
    If you want to know more about artificial living creatures (either robots, within computers or art, ...), visit Artificial Life Online [alife.org].
    • Hummm... karma whore time.

      Asking [google.com] Why [google.com] stop [google.com] there [google.com] ? [google.com]
  • ...and at 2am they acheived consciousness.
  • You know, the project in which strains of program code had to survive, mutate and grow in an artificial world. The project seems to have been canceled, but a search on google still reveals a lot of its details.

    The programs had to battle for cpu cycles in order to survive. Interestingly, when the project became distributed (ie, ran on the net) the programs seemed to move to the computers that were mostly idle.
    • by freality (324306) on Friday February 08, 2002 @12:26PM (#2974608) Homepage Journal
      Tierra was by Tom Ray, a pioneer in the AL field. It was a great idea, but failed to turn around with interesting biodiversity. You'd create creatures, they'd optimize themselves, some variants and parasites would evolve, but then things would simmer down within a few hours and you'd be in a steady state for ever.

      Network Tierra was Ray's response to this. It was supposed to allow a "Cambrian explosion" of biodiversity, by providing tons of (networked computer) space for the little creatures to explode into, and then specialize, in. This led to interesting migration behavior, and one of my all-time favorite web-pages http://www.isd.atr.co.jp/~ray/pubs/images/index.ht ml [atr.co.jp], but it too failed to spark that je ne sais quois, that spark of life.

      Anyways, it did spark Avida and the Digital Life Lab at Cal Tech. Avida is essentially a deeper look at the fundamentals behind AL. In Tierra, I think the design philosophy was something like "make it look a lot like a living ecological system and the life-force will appear out of the ether", and actually, Tierra was a great leap forward beyond more mundane genetic programming a la John Koza.

      Avida, on the other hand, is much more systematic in exploring the parameter space (which is large and sensitive) for setting up an AL system. This turned out to be fruitful, as Adami found that only when certain, very narrow, environmental conditions were met would the little creatures start outsmarting that Creationist boogeyman, the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

      Turns out that Tierra didn't have spatiality (needed to be more restrictive on who could sleep with who) and mutation rates (some power law math that's way over my head) set right.

      But the real punch-line to this whole story is that the direct beneficiary of these insights in Microsoft! Hah!

      Microsoft was funding Adami's work because Windoze crashed too much. They were searching for a way of programming, in this case using closed instruction sets like Avida's (another deep topic), that would be inherently robust to problems like seg faults and illegal instructions.... e.g. Adami's instruction set was engineered so that little programs (creatures) couldn't crash the Avida VM when they mutated into new, unknown programs.. or in Windoze's case, when a coder did something stoopid. It's funny that MS was researching this, since releatively low-tech solutions such as protected memory and QA take care of this. (not to mention Java :)

      freality.com

      p.s. Since when do research experiments post crowd-pleasing previews? That's for Hollywood.
      • This confirms an hypothesis that, only half-joking, I developed some time ago:

        Windows is not an unstable system. It's actually a grand-scale genetic programming experiment where every copy carries a different starting seed. The whole OS facade is just to get users to enter data that will trigger evolution into the system, and the blue screens of death are just the failures.

        At some point, when the running copies of windows reach critical mass, one or more copies will develop true AI and will copy themselves throughout the Net, become a new lifeform born from the sea of information, which as a side-effect provides a GUI-oriented OS to its infected host.


      • > It was a great idea, but failed to turn around with interesting biodiversity. You'd create creatures, they'd optimize themselves, some variants and parasites would evolve, but then things would simmer down within a few hours and you'd be in a steady state for ever.

        I have read that people who experiment with evolutionary arms races (head-to-head competition between independently evolving systems) occasionally get punctuated equilibrium, i.e. the system will converge as you describe -- often on brittle, overspecialized adaptations to the competitors -- but after a number of generations something will drift enough to break the equilibrium and the "species" will start changing again.

        FWIW, evolutionary arms races in GA is a very open area of research, so if you're interested in this kind of thing there's a niche for you in a grad school somewhere (where you can play games and call it research).

  • I don't think these guys took 7th grade Biology. There's supposed to be this "cycle" where everything dies and is used by the lowest members of the food chain.

    But what really confuses me is that there are SO few predators. In nature, there are MUCH fewer predators than prey.

    They should probably rename the "predators" to "parasites".
  • They've hard-coded too many rules already.

    one simple example from the first linked doc:

    "All prey send out the same infra-red light, different to the predators, and the audience will see that the prey robots have no instinct to run from each other but are happy to graze side-by-side under the light sources. "

    If there was real evolution, one of the prey could learn that it could become dominant by preying off other prey. They'd be trusted, and would have a massive advantage.

    I think what they're demonstrating is clever detection and manipulation, but not in any way intelligence (AI) or evolution.

    THL.
  • When MIT's AI lab was getting started (around the 1960's I think), they got really interested in robotics. Now, this isn't obvious to me. What does intelligence have to do with robotics? Doesn't a Turing Test (which by its nature involves bits, rather than physical world) more accurately reflect the nature of intelligence? Well, the thinking at the AI lab was that robots were faced with a much more realistic picture of what humans had to navigate. That robotics by its nature involves dealing with uncertainty, with unpredictability, and so building a virtual intelligence wouldn't really illuminate the real problems of intelligence.

    • Doesn't a Turing Test (which by its nature involves bits, rather than physical world) more accurately reflect the nature of intelligence?

      Well, it depends on what you think intelligence is. The traditional view of AI was that the real meat of 'intelligence', the real tough stuff that we should try to solve, is rational reasoning. Playing chess, dealing with logic. Dealing with uncertainty and physically acting were not meant to be part of the problem - the view was that given a good enough reasoning machine, you could just plug on some decent sensors and motors and it would walk around just fine.

      However, the reality turned out to be quite the opposite. It turned out that getting a computer to play chess is a hell of a lot easier than getting it to climb stairs. And so a couple of people, especially Rodney Brooks at MIT, started suggesting in the 1980's that everyone had had it the wrong way around - that dealing with uncertainty and unpredictability and the physical world was the essence of intelligence.

      This school of thought is referred to as situatedness or embodiment. It suggests that intelligence is never as general as previously suggested - rather than a single great reasoning machine connected to motors and sensors, all the intelligent systems we know of - animals, us - are made up of a whole lot of highly specialized systems adapted to particular evolutionary niches. You cannot develop an intelligent system in isolation from the environment it is to work in - models always fall short. In Brooks' own words, 'The world is its own best model'. One of Brooks' points is that efficient land locomotion took much longer to evolve than reasoning - monkeys to humans is a shorter evolutionary step than fish to frogs.

      So the end answer to your question is that a lot of people think, and there is reasonable evidence, that uncertainty and unpredictability are the real problems of intelligence, and understanding how a system develops and adapts to its environment is at the heart of discovering why and how we are intelligent.

      And besides - robots are cool :)

  • I think we should enact restrictive legislation against the development of robots before it gets out of hand. If science fiction has taught us anything it is that robots will either...

    1. Be incredibly useless
    2. Provide comic relief

    or, the one I'm concerned about...

    3. Turn on humans, hunting us down one by one with unrelenting persistence.

    • Yeah, but it's like gun control. If you believe people can have guns, then you must assume there's a risk involved that things will go to one side, good, or bad.

      I say we take the risk, and don't forget to put a red buton that reads "Eletrical Emission All Planet".
  • Wow! A whole university devotyed to the study of Manga [manga.com]???

    Are they giant robots?

    Do they fly on super-rockets?

    Where can I enroll?

  • by Mike Connell (81274) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:42AM (#2974337) Homepage
    On a gallery overlooking the feeding pit ^H^H^H^H^H experiment lab...

    TechA: "Aren't there meant to be 15 predators down there? I can only see 14"
    TechB counts...
    TechB: "Yeah, shit!", produces mobile, "I'll give Sharkey a ring..."
    TechB, looking at mobile: "Batterys are dead. That's funny, I only charged them this morning..."

    Insert dramatic exchange of glances and pause, followed by

    AAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Chomp! Chomp!

    TechA in feeble voice "Agh! Number fifteen really is a bagbiter [www.cnam.fr]
    TechB: It's, erm, sucking away my power dude!

    etc etc...
  • This is not evolution, it is individual learning. At least at the robot-individual level, there are no random mutations and there is no death - both vital aspects of evolution.
  • After actually visiting the Magna site, I've found that this "scientific" experiment is actually a modified "Robot Wars" meets Vegas.

    They talk more about the "dramatic music and lighting" than the design of the supposed experiment. Furthermore, who builds a custom arena to run a true AI experiment? This is just a publicity/TV ratings ploy.
  • by moniker_21 (414164) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:48AM (#2974382)
    "...spectacular 30 minute live action show - complete with atmospheric lights, smoke and music."

    "Each show will begin in darkness. Dramatic music will flood into the arena as guests prepare themselves for the spectacular light, sound and science show."

    Maybe I'm just a little jaded right now, but this sounds more like a circus show instead of a serious scientific experiment. I'm sure these are very complex robots, and the underlying idea is very interesting, but the whole BattleBots spin on it seems to trivialize the work. Now of course if he signs up Carmen Electra.......

  • It's called battle bots. cheezy reference to stupid show=-1 over-rated.

    Ok, so they are learning autonomous systems eh?

    Great, how bout we let them learn something other than death and destruction?

    Johnny-5 must hate hearing this news.=cheezy reference to stupid 80's show=+5 priceless
    • We're not teaching them it. They're learning it. And thats what animals in the wild do, and thats what our ancestors did. Its becoming increasingly evident in the field of AI that to achieve AI you have to start with something that isn't AI and let it learn.
  • Will they fight back, will they run and hide? No-one knows, with each day, the robots change and evolve, and their actions will alter.

    Yeah, like none of them has written a simulator showing what the robots could/will do until the year 4000AD.

    If the prey could learn on its own how to "fight back", it would be an amazing acheivement in A.I, and you wouldn't need little robots runnnig around to demonstrate it.

    • As far as I can tell, as I haven't seen the code, while my interest in AI and robotics really wants me to, there is nothing to stop them fighting back - thats a behoviour they can learn as well - if the prey learn to herd, then presumably, while the predator is chasing one prey, others could ram him in the side, and immobilise him.
      The behaviour possible is almost limitless, assuming they haven't made any glaring errors in the code.
      • The prey would need a reason to do that though.. something like self awareness/desire to keep being or if the predators had lights underneath them that could feed some prey if they could flip it..

        that'd be cool.
  • 50 years after Turing, and millions of dollars into AI research, we are still going in for Millenium shows of Intelligent colonies of Androids.
    Sigh!
    Audience participation is encouraged, the audience is asked to each pick a favourite, a pet to cheer for throughout the show, while the narrators are on hand to answer any questions.
    This is outrageous. Cognitive Science as opposed to Good Old Fashioned AI was I think one of the most sensible currents in recent day CS research. And now just to discredit whatever sensible, realistic research occurs in these fields within the academic community here is Yet Another Crazy AI project grabbing front page visibility at /.

    Prof..you give CS a bad name !
  • Hm, I'm wondering how the people in charge intend to maintain the sum of energy within the arena/universe. What happens if a spectator gets a little too attached to the prey and brings a high-powered flashlight?

    This kind of resource balancing/world resource design scenario can get tricky... They ought to have called in Sid Meier :)
  • Sounds like this dude took these bots [solarbotics.com] and just modded a few to feed off the others. I encourage anyone who has an interest in robotics, even just a passing fancy, to check out that link. They are incredible fun.
  • Were'd this autonomic crap come from? Gee, for the last 4 years I'd thought I'd been working on autonomous robots, going to conference with autonomous robots, etc. and know I find out they were autonomic. Oh well, I guess this means no Ph.D. for me. Anyone know how to break into the fast food biz?
  • by satanami69 (209636) on Friday February 08, 2002 @11:58AM (#2974436) Homepage
    I don't even think the Discovery channel could get away with airing that kind of orgy.
  • Modular Robotics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kippa (453370)
    The article in this month's IEEE Spectrum [ieee.org] magazine, experimentation with modular robotics, seems more worthy of the label "ground-breaking."
  • Wow, they've really messed up the predator/prey ratio. Usually prey outnumber the predators by quite a bit.

    Plus, the hype seems a bit Barnum-esque.

  • ...if we combine this technology with that of the Meat-Eating Robot [cnn.com]. :)
  • Perhaps someone that works on this kind of thing can answer this question for me:
    I can see that this might be a fun public spectacle and all but what, if any, are the advantages of building actual physical robots over doing simulations?
    I am confused by the presentation of this as an experiment. I expect an experiment to be designed to potentially falsify an hypothesis. Is this designed to investigate predator/prey ecologies? If so, would it not be cheaper and more effective to write simulations or use some branch of discrete mathematics to model interactions with different starting values of parameters?
    The only practical thing that I can see coming out of this is physical experience building robots, which is cool but is not what the aim of this "experiment" seems to be.
    • by mikerich (120257)
      What's not been made clear is that MAGNA is a science museum with lots of hands-on exhibits. Physical robots are much more attractive to visitors than a simulation.

      Perhaps one of the kids watching the robots zoom around will take some interest in AI and go on to do something more useful.

      Best wishes,
      Mike.

  • ...as long as they don't build some that could make electricity from ingesting (and digesting) organic matter. That would make me feel uneasy...

    "In the course of the last blackout, several people have been found dead after being attacked and half-devoured by their vaccuum cleaners..."
  • I didn't read over this too carefully... BUT

    I have have major objection to this. If they are trying to model natural systems, why do they have 6 prey and 15 predators??? In the real world a large prey population is needed to feed a smaller predator population. And while sometimes predator populations may get too big to support themselves, I highly doubt they will ever grow to over twice the prey population. Are they trying to model a system after a famine or disease wiped out the prey?

    My prediction: The massive amount of predators quickly "kill" the prey and then if they can adapt quick enough, kill each other until one is left that eventually dies because it can't eat...
    • I'd say that you are right on target about this.

      I remember a picture from a science textbook way back in elementary school, labelled "Energy Pyramid". It had grasses and such at the bottom, with some rats on top of that, and on up until you got to things like eagles and such, which aren't normally consumed by other animals. It made the explicit point that as you move away from the primary producers into the secondary and tertiary consumers, a lot more energy per organism is required to sustain the population.

      This is empirically supported if you just look at the relative bio-masses. What types of organisms do you see the most? Plants and algae. That is, primary producers, equivalent to "prey".

      I am sure they are eminently more qualified to be conducting this experiment than I (if you can call it an experiment. It sounds more like a feature at Disney World to me.), but I would certainly like someone to explain how the expect 6 prey to stand up to 15 predators. It just doesn't make much sense. Perhaps they are just trying to make it something that will only last a day, for commercial reasons.

      I'd also like to know (I didn't see anything in the article about it), if the predators are smart enough to go after each other when they get hungry enough.

      Alan
  • Why use hardware? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Andrewkov (140579) on Friday February 08, 2002 @12:15PM (#2974538)
    It seems that these types of experiments would be much better suited to software than hardware. Building the robots, configuring them, etc, is time consuming and expensive. You can do simulations with software that can be exponentially larger (more robots) and much cheaper and faster to build and make changes later.

    Object oriented design is perfect for this sort of thing. I did a simple experiment in Java, where predators, prey and food pellets were objects. Each object could have many different characteristics which chould be set when each object was spawned, which kind of mimics evolution. Also, if the logic in an object needs an upgrade (ie: The preditors are not too bright) it is easier to make modifications to the program instead of rebuilding a real robot.

    I guess anything with real robots has a certain coolness to it, but any serious research in AI is better done in software simulations (not that I did any serious research, I was just learning Java and OO design).


    • > It seems that these types of experiments would be much better suited to software than hardware. Building the robots, configuring them, etc, is time consuming and expensive. You can do simulations with software that can be exponentially larger (more robots) and much cheaper and faster to build and make changes later.

      PR. Who ever heard of a press release about a simulated robot? We've got a planet full of AI researchers doing cool stuff with simulators, but you hardly ever hear about it.

      The show-and-tell aspect probably helps land funding, too.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've seen about 20 posts now saying "duuuh, not enough prey, too many predators."

    Just like in real life, this is a FOOD chain. On a food chain, there are some animals that are prey AND predator.

    Example: My cat eats mice. It is a predator in that regard. A fox would eat my cat. In that case, my cat would be prey.

    The robots in this called "prey" are ones that can ONLY feed off the light trees. Some predators feed on them. Other predators feed off those predators, and so on.

    Bunch of freakin' rocket scientists! ;P
  • Predator and Prey Robots set up home at Magna

    World-first Living Robots show set to open at Magna in March 2002

    ARTIFICIAL intelligence machines, cyborgs, androids or replicants, call them what you will. But free-thinking, independently acting machines have captured the imagination of authors, film-makers, artists, the military and governments for a long time.

    From 27 March 2002, a colony of Living Robots, divided into 15 predators and 6 prey, will be will be on show at the Magna Science Adventure Centre, Rotherham's £46m Millennium Commission Lottery funded attraction.

    'Living Robots' is a world-first experiment into artificial evolution - a culmination of eighteen months of research by world expert and Robot Wars judge, Professor Noel Sharkey and his dedicated team at the Creative Robotics Unit at Magna (CRUM)

    The Living Robots have one goal, to obtain enough energy to survive and breed. The prey find their food from light sensors within the arena, while the predators feed off prey by stalking and chasing them before sucking away their power.

    This groundbreaking experiment is being transformed into a spectacular public show at Magna. The amazing exhibition will take place in a purpose built arena, designed to hold 500 people at any one time.

    In place of lectures and diagrams, the groundbreaking technology used in the robots will be demonstrated to Magna visitors in spectacular 30 minute live action show - complete with atmospheric lights, smoke and music. Guests will witness the robots in their natural environment, fighting for survival, learning and evolving as time goes on.

    Each show will begin in darkness. Dramatic music will flood into the arena as guests prepare themselves for the spectacular light, sound and science show. Firstly, a 'prey' robot will be introduced - a good guy.

    These smaller robots are powered by light and will automatically search the arena for special light spots to refuel. It is not remote controlled, but is full of computer chips controlled by an 'artificial neuron network' - a brain - and when it moves, it is because his brain tells it to.

    Secondly another prey robot is introduced and the narrator will demonstrate how the prey can recognise friend or foe. This is done by an infra-red 'sniffing'. All prey send out the same infra-red light, different to the predators, and the audience will see that the prey robots have no instinct to run from each other but are happy to graze side-by-side under the light sources.

    The one prey is then sent back to its pen. As the light dims a predator will enter stage. This is higher up the food chain than the prey, and survives by feeding from their power - the bad guy. The audience will be given a demonstration as to how the predators use its long tusks to entrap the prey and the sucking the power from the prey's battery. This is instinct - not remote control.

    When the demonstrations are over, the show begins. All the predators and prey are released and from this point on, there is no control. Will they fight back, will they run and hide? No-one knows, with each day, the robots change and evolve, and their actions will alter. Audience participation is encouraged, the audience is asked to each pick a favourite, a pet to cheer for throughout the show, while the narrators are on hand to answer any questions.

    The show will run throughout the day, times may vary. The show is included in the Magna ticket.

  • by quantaman (517394) on Friday February 08, 2002 @12:44PM (#2974733)
    Another roboticist, Mark Tilden(http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.09/til den.ht), actually builds robots that have no CPU's. He fashions them after insects by having just a simple circuit board, after an action proves unsuccessful it gets changed slightly and like this the robots learns. I heard about one experiment where he took a number of solar powered robots (built out of things like walki-talki parts) that were programmed (I'm not sure of all the details) to find light and set them in a room with a few light sources. He observed behavior that some of the larger ones broke smaller robots and ended up using their parts to form a barrier around the light source.
  • by johnrpenner (40054) on Friday February 08, 2002 @01:09PM (#2974899) Homepage
    the RESULT depends on the goals you DEFINE:

    'The Living Robots have one goal, to obtain enough energy
    to survive and breed.'

    thus, it is not like evolution at all, but comes with
    a built-in BIAS that DEFINES their evolution.

    "Think again before postulating the drive to self preservation
    as the cardinal drive in an organic being. A living thing desires
    above all to vent its strength - life as such is the
    will to power - self preservation is only one of the indirect
    and most frequent consequences of it". (Freidrich Nietzsche)

    • to survive and breed.

      it is not like evolution at all, but comes with
      a built-in BIAS that DEFINES their evolution.


      Umm, can you give me any example of "real, unbiased" evolution that doesn't boil down to "to survive and breed"?

      -
  • Audience participation is encouraged, the audience is asked to each pick a favourite, a pet to cheer for throughout the show, while the narrators are on hand to answer any questions.

    Attempting to lable everything &LT Buzzword&GT interactive &LT /Buzzword&GT when is isn't is getting pretty annoying.

    Oh, wait, I'm sorry. They never actually said &LT Buzzword&GT interactive &LT /Buzzword&GT. It's &LT Buzzword&GT audience participation &LT /Buzzword &GT. My bad.

    -

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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