Friday, May 01, 2009

Science the Random Adaptive Machine

The machine in this hilarious video reminded me of a passage in Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann's entertaining book The Quark and the Jaguar.

The first section is on Complex Adaptive Systems. These systems seek out rules and patterns in the information that is presented to them. They are then able to make useful predictions. For example a child learning a language does not have a look-up table memorised with every combination of words. Rather she/he constructs tentative rules based on the regularity with which various words occur together and the order in which they occur. Even at a surprisingly young age children can form meaningful (albeit not very grammatically accurate) sentences that they have never heard before.

The following passage is a segue into the chapter entitled "The Scientific Enterprise":
Nowadays robot design might include a form of communication among the legs, but not through a governing central processing unit. Instead each leg would have the capacity to influence the behaviour of the others by means of communication links. The pattern of strengths of influence of the legs on one another would be a schema, subject to variations produced, for example,, by input from a generator of pseudo-random numbers. The selection pressures influencing the adoption and rejection of candidate patterns might originate from additional sensors that measure what is happening not just to an individual leg, but also to the robot as a whole, such as whether it is moving forward or backward and whether its belly is far enough off the ground. In this way the robot would tend to develop a schema that yielded a gait suited to the terrain on which it was traveling and that was subject to alteration when the character of that terrain changed. Such a robot may be regarded as at least a primitive form of complex adaptive system.

I am told that a six-legged robot something like this has been built at MIT and that it has discovered, among other gaits, one that is commonly used by insects...when the robot uses this gait depends on the terrain.

Now consider, in contrast to a robot that learns a few useful properties of the terrain it needs to traverse, a complex adaptive system exploring the general properties, as well as a host of detailed features, of a much grander terrain, namely the whole universe.


Sabio Lantz said...

That was a funny video.
Is this the Big Dog video you were looking for?

You are aware that apparently (Chomsky & Pinker) humans come with much software already on board to speed language learning?

Rene Benthien said...

didn't realise there was a video...holy crap! that robot can jump! They've doomed us all.

Yeah I was quite fascinated by Chomsky's findings. If that kind of thing is innate, sometime you wonder if you much of your own personality is really under you control.