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13 FEBRUARY 2015

The Creepy Collective Behavior of Boston Dynamics' New Robot Dog

"Robotics company Boston Dynamics has a new four–legged addition to its family: a 160–pound quadruped named Spot...

We know from Spot's reaction to that kick that he can dynamically correct his stability–behavior that's modeled after biological systems. From what Couzin can tell, the robots' collective movement is an organic outgrowth of that self–correction. When the two Spots collide at the 1:25 mark, they're both able to recover quickly from the nudge and continue on their route up the hill. 'But the collision does result in them tending to align with one another (since each pushes against the other),' Couzin wrote in an email. 'That can be an important factor: Simple collisions among individuals can result in collective motion.'

In Couzin's research on locusts, for example, the insects form plagues that move together by just barely avoiding collisions. 'Recently, avoidance has also been shown to allow the humble fruit fly to make effective collective decisions,' he wrote.

It doesn't look like Spot is programmed to work with his twin brothers and sisters–but that doesn't matter if their coordination emerges naturally from the physical rules that govern each individual robot. Clearly, bumping into each other isn't the safest or most efficient way to get your robot army to march in lock step, but it's a good start. And it's relatively easy to imagine several Spots working together in organized ways if the LIDAR sensors fitted on their 'heads' were programmed to create avoidance behaviors–like those locusts–rather than simply reacting to collisions.

Spot's life–like motions are uncanny, but when you add this emergent, collective behavior–which can sometimes be unpredictable–the possibilities get downright scary. Will Spot's group dynamics stop at the point of swarming like locusts? (Ominous.) Will they cluster into self–protecting balls like sardines? (Less so.) Or could they end up as smart and responsive as humans?

Couzin goes so far as to call this bump–and–grind between Spots One and Two a social interaction. 'No matter how primitive, there's no doubt that these interactions could enhance the decision–making capabilities of such robots when they must make their own, autonomous, decisions in an uncertain world,' he wrote. We'll just have to hope that decision–making involves not trampling us when a pack of Spots starts stampeding like wildebeest."

(Neel V. Patel, 11 February 2015 Wired News)

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TAGS

2015animal locomotionartificial lifeautomataautonomous creature • avoidance behaviour • biological systems • Boston Dynamics • bumping • collective animal behavior • collective behaviour • collective decisions • collective motion • collective movement • collision detection • decision-making capabilitiesdogfruit flyherd • Iain Couzin • LIDARlocomotionmechanical being • nudge • physical rules • quadruped • robot army • robot dog • robot machinesrobotic creaturerobotics • self-correction • social interactionspeculative engineering • Spot (robot) • stabilityswarming • swarming locusts • walkingWired (magazine) • Wired News

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
31 MAY 2011

Adam Curtis: the network ecology myth

"The new series, called All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, takes complicated ideas and turns them into entertainment by the use of the vertigo–inducing intellectual leaps, choppy archive material and disorienting music with which all Curtis fans are familiar. The central idea leads Curtis on a journey, taking in the chilling über–individualist novelist Ayn Rand, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, the 'new economy', hippy communes, Silicon Valley, ecology, Richard Dawkins, the wars in Congo, the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory, and the computer model of the eating habits of the pronghorn antelope.

You can see why Zoe Williams once wrote that, while watching one of Curtis's programmes, 'I kept thinking the dog was sitting on the remote. ...'

Now he has moved on to machines, but it starts with nature. 'In the 1960s, an idea penetrated deep into the public imagination that nature is a self–regulating ecosystem, there is a natural order,' Curtis says. 'The trouble is, it's not true–as many ecologists have shown, nature is never stable, it's always changing. But the idea took root and spread wider–people started to believe there is an underlying order to the entire world, to how society is structured. Everything became part of a system, like a computer; no more hierarchies, freedom for all, no class, no nation states.' What the series shows is how this idea spread into the heart of the modern world, from internet utopianism and dreams of democracy without leaders to visions of a new kind of stable global capitalism run by computers. But we have paid a price for this: without realising it we, and our leaders, have given up the old progressive dreams of changing the world and instead become like managers–seeing ourselves as components in a system, and believing our duty is to help that system balance itself. Indeed, Curtis says, 'The underlying aim of the series is to make people aware that this has happened–and to try to recapture the optimistic potential of politics to change the world.'

The counterculture of the 1960s, the Californian hippies, took up the idea of the network society because they were disillusioned with politics and believed this alternative way of ordering the world was based on some natural order. So they formed communes that were non–hierarchical and self–regulating, disdaining politics and rejecting alliances. (Many of these hippy dropouts later took these ideas mainstream: they became the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who decided that computers could liberate everyone and save the world.)...

He draws a parallel with those 1970s communes. 'The experiments with them all failed, and quickly. What tore them apart was the very thing that was supposed to have been banished: power. Some people were more free than others – strong personalities dominated the weak, but the rules didn't allow any organised opposition to the suppression because that would be politics.' As in the commune, so in the world: 'These are the limitations of the self–organising system: it cannot deal with politics and power. And now we're all disillusioned with politics, and this machine–organising principle has risen up to be the ideology of our age.'"

(Katharine Viner, 6 May 2011, Guardian)

Episode 1: 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace: Love and Power', First broadcast BBC Two, 9:00PM Mon, 23 May 2011
Episode 2: 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts', First broadcast BBC Two, 9:00PM Mon, 30 May 2011
Episode 3: 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace: The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey', First broadcast BBC Two, 9:00PM Mon, 06 June 2011

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TAGS

1960s1970sabstract modelabstractionAdam Curtis • Alan Greenspan • All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace • archive footageAyn RandBBC2Bill MurrayblogsCarmen Hermosillochange • commune • computer model • computer utopianism • confessional memoirs • control societyconvergencecounterculturecultural expressioncyberspacedemocracydigital cultureecologyemotions become commodified • Esther Rantzen • evolution • expressions of power • Facebookfreedom • Georgia • global capitalism • hierarchical structures • hierarchies • hierarchy • hippy communes • hippy dropouts • hyper-consumerismideologyideology of the timeindividualisminternet utopianism • Kyrgyzstan • Loren Carpenter • machines • Mayfair Set • mercantilist economy • modern world • natural order • network ecologynetworked societynetworksnon-hierarchical • non-hierarchical societies • orderingPongpopular culture • punchdrunk • reflexive modernisationRichard Dawkinsscientific ideasself-organising systemself-regulating • self-regulating ecosystem • selfish gene theory • Silicon Valleysocial experimentssocial mediasocialist realismsociety • Soviet realism • stability • stable order • Stakhanovites • structuresystems theorytechnology convergencetelevision documentary • TUC • TwitterUkraineunderlying orderunstable • Westminster • White House • Zoe Williams

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
30 APRIL 2010

Stable Knowledge / Beständiges Wissen?

"Modernity replaced this metaphysical casting through the conception of a knowing subject as a stable medium. Information technology transformed the modern subject into an object of in–formation. But this process does not necessarily lead to the domination of information technology over humankind. It also enables the transformation of the modern subject into a project (Vilém Flusser). The medium of our projections is digital casting. Within it logos is not primarily oriented toward a stable object, but consists of unstable messages. Angelia displaces logos."

(Rafael Capurro)

Capurro, R. (2006). "Beständiges Wissen / Stable Knowledge?" LIBREAS(01/2006).

Flusser, Vilém. (1994). Vom Subjekt zum Projekt [From Subject to Project]. Bollmann (Bensheim).

TAGS

a knowing subject • an object of in-formation • angelia • autonomydisplacementexistentialismhumankindinformationinformation technologylogosmetaphysics • modern subject • modernityphenomenologystability • stable object • transformation of the modern subject • unstable messages • Vilém Flusser

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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