Friday, December 9, 2011

Kevin Warwick and the Seven Dwarfs

Here is some video which I took at an exhibition in Glasgow in 1996. Kevin Warwick demonstrates machine learning and flocking behavior with the "Seven Dwarf" robots.

This is not the "cognitive" robotics which you can now see in robots running ROS, where they're mapping the environment and planning paths through it, but is a much simpler and more behavioristic system in which sensors and actuators are connected fairly directly with only a negligible amount of internal state.

It is interesting to think about these types of robots, which only have a small amount of computation onboard, in terms of Stephen Wolframs classes of automata, and whether or not they could converge towards collective behavior systems which are Turing complete - facilitating an open-ended cultural evolution.  It's a conjecture of mine that something like this happened in human evolution, such that whereas most social creatures have quite predictable behaviors and a fairly static culture some accident of circumstance or mutation meant that the collective human socio-cognitive system fell into class 4 type behaviors, and what followed was the emergence of history and technology.

There was a great deal of interest in behavioristic robotics throughout the 1990s, particularly promoted by Rodney Brooks, in spite of behaviorism's having fallen out of favor within the realm of psychology by that time.  Within the last decade robotics systems have tended to move back towards GOFAI, with much more internal state and elaborate environmental modeling and planning.

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