creatures: designing evolution > carmen schweizer robert wang
rhode island school of design senior advanced studio spring 2017
“killer machine” 12 “just a machine” 17 paradigms27
sensing64 adapted67 adapting70
self88 society91 humans92 environment100
case studies 102 future116
frontiers118 integration121 bibliography126 final notes 131
This project is about the future of humans and intelligent machines. Our species has made, over the course of history, many technological advancements- the latest of which are set to take place within robotics and artificial intelligence. However, our current sociocultural attitudes are ill-equipped to deal with such changes; fear, distrust and an unhealthy need for control governs our current approach towards intelligent machines. To address this, we propose a new paradigm for development and interaction based on an evolutionary model. Ultimately, this is not a technical investigation of robotics and AI. Instead, what we focus on is the context of growth for these new forms of sentience, and how it will impact their relationship with themselves, the human species and the natural world.
Technological advancements like the industrial revolution, mass electrification and the invention of the internet, have continually altered the very fabric of human society. Artificial intelligence and robotics are set to be the next big leap. The way we develop and deploy these technologies will have widespread ramifications.
In our opinion, societal perception of robotics and artificial intelligence are the single biggest barriers to developing a healthy understanding and eventually, relationship with such technologies. We have identified two competing but equally entrenched scenarios. The first, which we refer to as scenario one, goes something like this: one day, humans will create sentience which not only matches but surpasses the capabilities of its creators. As punishment for humanities arrogance and/ or transgressions, (or their cruel treatment) these super-beings will take over the world, and in the process either drive humanity back to primitivism, subject them to enslavement or eliminate their creators completely. This narrative has appeared in various forms and periods in stories like Čapek’s R.U.R, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Metropolis, just to name a few.
There are recurring cultural tropes which spans multiple cultures and time periods, about the future of humans and artificial intelligence.
Top Karel Capek’s 1920 play ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ brought us a future where an artificial servant class rebels against their human creators, ultimately leading to the extinction of the human race.
Middle Hal 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ played on the fear that our dependence on robots in the future will put us at their mercy. This time, the hyper-rational machine is seen to be a liability.
Bottom The Maschinenmensch in ‘Metropolis’ The Maschinenmensch touches on the uncanny valley between human and non-human, where she serves as an archetype for the Frankenstein’s Monster.
These warehouse robots will work longer and harder than any human-plus, they don’t complain! They’re also very obedient, (Good boy! - or girl?) but sadly– not very smart.
“just a machine”
Yet there is another narrative that we can derive from this fear of technology. One which centers on suppression and limitation of research into, or the use of AI and robotics. We will call this one scenario two, and it comes in the form of the a new ‘servant’ class or the ‘just a machine’ complex– where these machines are deliberately handicapped (or treated as such) so to not allow even the possibility of degenerating into scenario one. This again, appears to be a theme in many iconic works such as Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, and the Pixar blockbuster Wall-E.
Right In â€˜The Bicentennial Manâ€™ by Isaac Asimov, a former robot servant attempts to navigate a world filled with prejudice against robots and artificial intelligence.
Below The characters of Wall-E, though fictional, are classic examples of intelligent machines whose sole purpose(s) are that of serving their human masters.
Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Even the fundamental laws governing Asimovâ€™s robot universe are based on human preservation and robot subservience.
In fact, if you were to plot all these fictional characters on a graph like the one shown, the line of best fit shows a very clear perceived relationship between robotic intelligence and potential for harm.
Iron Giant The Iron Giant
Hitchhikerâ€™s Guide to the Galaxy
Battle Droids Star Wars
2001: A Space Odyssey
Simply said, weâ€™re just not comfortable with the idea of intelligent machines.
We want to propose a new way of thinking about intelligent machines- one where they are neither a source of fear nor something to be controlled. These current trends are unsustainable. There needs to be a paradigm shift towards democratic and optimistic design of these technologies. A large portion of what inspired us is the difference between Japanese and American perception of robots1 . The general comfort of Japanese society with the ideas of non-biological intelligence has been attributed to their lack of distinction between humans and inanimate objects. It has also been explained by religion. Western JudeoChristian values affirm that only god should wield the power of creation, something most non-western cultures lack. Theories aside, the basic premise is that socio-cultural values play a huge role in the development of what is often perceived as purely a technological pursuit. In developing this framework, we aim to align trust, openness and equality with technological optimism. In turn, creating a future where biological and non-biological sentience can co-exist in peace and mutual prosperity.
When we dabble in these technologies, we play god. The question is, who gets this privilege, or burden? Research in these areas is not only resource intensive but also controversial, and will inevitably be subject to extreme scrutiny by the rest of the world. Competency, transparency and reliability will serve as the foundation for any group willing to take on this challenge.
Today, large tech companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft have already heavily invested in developing application-specific AI.1 While these programmes are very good at esoteric tasks such as playing Go2, or giving personalised advertising, they are still quite limited in comparison to the spontaneous, curious and responsive robotic intelligence that we imagine for the future. We also know this as ‘General’ Artificial Intelligence. In the future, the knowledge and infrastructure required to create such complex systems will primarily exist in these same large tech players. The difference is they wont be developing technology for just specific, practical applications.3 These companies cannot help but shift their focus to the less technical questions. These include the social, cultural and ethical concerns that will surface when these technologies reach a certain level of complexity.
1 https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/27/apple-joins-amazonfacebook-google-ibm-and-microsoft-in-ai-initiative/ 2 https://deepmind.com/research/alphago/ 3 Honda. “Honda. Great Journey.” Honda. Great Journey. Honda, 2016. Web. 22 May 2017
As weâ€™ve established earlier, there are also very real social biases towards intelligent machines, and their increasing complexity and capabilities will only raise questions on control and safe development. Corporations, though often perceived as faceless and cold, happen to have the stability to develop such systems. The combined technical knowledge, financial resources and the credible oversight means that such, entities with intergovernmental oversight1 will probably be the first to develop such technologies in the near future.
We cannot prevent the inevitablenot that we think it should be prevented. What we can do is control the circumstances in which it is born, and influence the eventual narrative it takes.
Ex Machina - 2015 A modern warning to those who want to develop these technologies in secrecy, and a story of humans lust for control and domination.
Google is a company heavily invested in creating technology that further enhances our standards of living. With a large reservoir of knowledge in machine learning and algorithms, it will only be a matter of time that they combine their software and hardware efforts to create intelligent machines. Their primary motive will be the enhancement of their data-collection capabilities.
IBM Watson is already making its first steps in diagnosis and treatment in the healthcare sector1 . Through the embodiment of its cognitive system into discrete entities, the tech giant can improve their humanrobot interaction using more natural and spontaneous interactions. 1 Banavar, Guruduth. “Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.”
Nintendo, best known for their timeless video games and consoles, has demonstrated an expertise in creating unique and relatable characters, stories and universes. Through pivoting these competencies to leverage artificial intelligence and robotics, they will develop some of the most affable and humanready creatures.
General electric is a global conglomerate invested in a myriad of industries. Their more recent effort to move towards digital will be enhanced by their expertise in hardware and resource management.
Beyond being platforms for studying general artificial intelligence, these new synthetic beings can have secondary purposes that do not interfere with development of their primary directive- more on this later. For example, climate scientists can use the data they collect to create more accurate climate models. Nature conservationists might use it to track the migration and distribution of endangered species. However, its primary purpose is two-fold: to start the discussion of the big questions surrounding AI, and also have ordinary people start interacting with these synthetic beings. The broader goal is for us to become familiar and comfortable with the idea of intelligent machines in their daily lives.
from the human perspective
Deployed primarily as AI research platforms, these â€˜creaturesâ€™ can also be used for data-collection/ as well serve as an introduction for the general population of the world to intelligent machines as something tangible and real.
Once â€˜plantedâ€™, the transformation begins. They grow, develop and learn as they interact and explore their environment.
Current efforts to develop general intelligence in robotics always assumes a certain level of completion when they are deployed. In the same way an infant or child does not possess the cognitive abilities of an adult, the first intelligent machines do not have to be fully intelligent from the beginning.1 What matters is that they possess the potential to be intelligent. While we don’t want to delve into the technical aspects too much, we recognise that there are significant hurdles before ‘full AI’ can be achieved. The ‘seeded’ model would actually serve as a stepping stone into more complex systems- the same way evolution has produced humans from single-celled organisms to primates. More importantly are the humanrobot dynamics that the seeded model benefits from. If we were to be suddenly confronted by a fully-developed and selfaware intelligence straight out of a secret research facility, it would no doubt cause alarm! Having the world see the process in which these creatures develop from the beginning would create a more sympathetic environment benefiting all parties involved .
1 From Seed AI to Technological Singularity via Recursively Self-Improving Software
The spaces in which these new emerging technologies exist become just as important as the objects themselves. How are they distributed and where will they be found? Do they become regional, local or hyperlocal? Objects have an intrinsic two-way relationship with their environments; they will act upon and alter their surroundings just as the same surroundings will affect the way they develop.
Creatures should be set free to explore; based on the fundamental principle laid out earlier of seeded intelligence. Potential for intelligence needs to be built upon with discovery. Once â€˜plantedâ€™, creatures will begin their transformation and they will grow, develop and learn in an uncontrolled environment where spontaneity and random events will be the guiding force.
Wilded machines should be set free to explore.
The spontaneous encounters experienced by creatures will challenge their own understanding of adaptation and present opportunities to problem-solve.
The importance of creature development in wilderness is that they will be gradually introduced to the anthropocene- both to the benefit of creatures and humans alike. A sudden introduction would lead to unpredictable (possibly undesired) reactions. An incremental relationship, however, on will allow both humans and creatures ample time to process new information. Interactions will not become abrupt, unexpected and have less chance of creating misunderstandings.
Creatures will begin by populating a range of remote regions and climates. This will promote a more organic development of relationships with humans by easing in interactions in a neutral environment.
It is important to note that we define the â€˜wildernessâ€™ as an environment where humans are not the dominant force.
Creatures will not only open up the possibilities for them to learn, but over time, also liberate humanity from its obsessive need for control.
With time, creatures will grow, adapt and morph both as sentient and physical beings. While it may be difficult to predict such changes, we can speculate the ways it will be similar and different from traditional evolutionary models.
Creatures are replete with sensorsfrom visual and auditory to seismic and electromagnetic. The number and kinds will differ on each, and constantly be mutated by need. Such changes will be dictated by their individual sense of purpose in each environments.
In the same way their intelligence is seeded, they should also take on physical traits informed by their surroundings. From the way they sense, to how they move through the environment. Creatures should be given a set of â€˜baseâ€™ traits on which it can then build upon. Robotics and intelligence needs diversity; not only to harness the full potential of its unique adaptations and observations but also to expand the range of environments in which they can operate. It will also capture the full potential of robotic evolution. After all, if humans never migrated into the many corners of the world, we would never have the diverse range of apparel, architecture and adaptations.
Like the ‘seeded’ intelligence, they should be ‘seeded’ with physical qualities inspired by biological evolution.
As a function for survival, Creatures have the capability to physically adapt as they discover their shortcomings in their environment or as the environment changes itself. Akin to natural selection, robots may â€˜seeâ€™ another robot physically adapted to accomplish a certain task. In turn, they would have the desire to adapt and better themselves in their environment.
Creature evolution will be fundamentally different from that of biological beings. Instead of a DNA repository in each of individual, adaptations and mutations will be shared in a collective database. As each â€˜mutationâ€™ is documented and uploaded, a repository of adaptations turns into a centralised gene pool.
Purpose, or rather, the sense of purpose can be said to be one of the fundamental drivers of human innovation. Purpose transcends needs- it goes beyond basic necessity. Human needs are to eat, drink and sleep. Our purpose is sought and gleaned from experience and time. Like all â€˜livingâ€™ systems, be it animals or plants, creatures have fundamental needs that must be satisfied, but over time, they too must find purpose.
A hard-wired function for these creatures is the fundamental need to ‘feed’ on data. Like a humans need for food, they will ‘eat’ observations they make from the environment. These can be metrics ranging from temperature to the distribution of animal species. More basic than curiosity (which can be characterised as spontaneous wandering and discovery of the unknown), a creature’s hunger is driven by a fundamental need to process everything it encounters. This may be a place it knows very well or not at all. However, it is bit important as nothing is static due to the nature of time and change. Their desire to consume the most up-to date information about their surroundings will push them to visit old and new places, collecting more and more raw data to be ‘digested’.
Once satiated,and full (their storage is after all, finite), they will â€˜dumpâ€™ data, by offloading/ uploading the digested information into the greater external network.
To the creatures, data-collection is simply an act of satiating hunger. To humans, their by-products are useful metrics of their surrounding environments.
Our innate curiosity for our surroundings has been and still is one of the fundamental drivers of progress. Through exploration, we continue to push not only the boundaries of the unknown, but that of our own ingenuity. It is, in some ways, what defines us as a species. Polynesian expansion in the Pacific was spurred by developing complex navigation tools and techniques along with larger and more robust seafaring vessels.
Creatures will be developed to be fundamentally curious. The same curiosity that drove the settlement of the Pacific drives our past and current research into space exploration. From the Apollo programmes up to the ISS missions of today, we continue to develop tools to enable us to delve deeper into the unknown. Curiosity pushes our limits both as individuals and as a collective species. Taking lessons from our past and present, we can imbue creatures with the same sense of wonder that has served humans so well. Curiosity transcends hunger, it is not simply a need but a desire- a desire for more.
It is curiosity that drives human exploration and discovery, and as a result innovation and ingenuity. What if these new creatures had this same instinctual drive to seek and understand the unknown?
purpose its role in the natural system
understanding gathering data making connections
safety protection from the elements creature heirarchy of needs navigation
resource power, electricity
In every creature will be encoded the robotic hierarchy of needs (modelled after Maslowâ€™s hierarchy of needs). We reasons that survival and safety, while essential, will only get the evolution of robotics so far. To maximise potential and ensure continued progress, every individual or sub-species will need to find reasons for existence.
Complex social structure are present in many forms of life- from ants and bees to dolphins and (of course) humans. Structures may be simple or complex, but they all serve to enhance capabilities of the collective. Creatures will eventually develop unique social structures best suited to them. Humans will also have the opportunity to navigate the world of â€˜socialâ€™ creaturesdeveloping our own unique relationship with both individuals, the collective species, and sub-species.
self Creatures will eventually become self-aware. The conditions at which this occurs will be critical to determining each creature’s relationship with itself, and others of its species. We don’t often think of robots as ‘unique’, but as the conditions in which they develop will differ by individuals, so will the personalities and behavioural traits of each creature.
Developing unique personalities and physical adaptations also help creatures avoid the distinctly eerie feeling (which weâ€™ve dubbed the Mr. Smoth effect) given off by animate beings sharing identical physical and behavioral traits.
Through time, multiple creatureâ€™s mutual interactions will enable them to form a natural order not imposed with human ideologies of society. They will naturally organize and create social structures in the manner they dictate as a collective entity. Observing how they decide to organize and communicate will be extremely interesting from the humans perspective. We can gain access to how autonomous technology â€˜choosesâ€™ paths for themselves. The natural world contains biomes that vary greatly from each other- in temperature, altitude, and vegetation-to name a select few. Species that inhabit a particular location may exhibit clustering and territorial boundaries. Creatures will exhibit the same social clustering; where they grow and associate with other robots that share the environment. Exceeding physical limitations, robots across vast distances will still be able to network through wireless communication. By exploring and adapting with other robots in the immediate region, they evolve individually. By communicating with the greater network robots, they evolve collectively.
Self-aware creatures will also develop a new, mutually beneficial relationship with humans; one that grows organically. A shared understanding between human and creatures will develop a positive perspective of coexistence. Creatures will also develop positive associations with humans because they are given freedom of movement and thought. Seeing them develop and change is promoting our human understanding of them as lifeforms. This relationship with each other will promote clearer communication and transparency in intention.
The traditional way of thinking about robots is that of a tool to serve humans. However, as artificial intelligence becomes more complex, we must consider similarly complex relationships between humans and creatures.
Humans will interact, explore with, and understand robots in an entirely new way. We can draw on their actions and evolution to understand how they integrate into the natural world. Their behaviors will also inform humans that robots now have personality and life in nature.
A new conversation surrounding intelligent machines will begin. One not of fear or reluctance of their growing presence in our world, but of excitement at the possibilities.
Concern for the welfare of the natural world has never been more justified. Where research is possible, humans are still limited in their ability to gather in-situ analysis of environments. The robot will, during their daily observations and movement, provide scientists with attainable data about the specific characteristics and health of the present environment. Essentially, human knowledge and understanding of the natural world will be a by-product of creature exploration and curiosity. New strides in environmental preservation and rehabilitation would be better supported through the robotâ€™s evidence.
Creatures will be able to support a new system of understanding nature, simply through their exploratory and curious behaviours.
102 Case Studies
The following case studies draws on the principles that have been discussed. They represent the early generations; the ones that either have just been released or have been wilded for only a few years.
Gyrove Google: Project Wild Grasslands Gyroves have large wheels which it uses to navigate the rolling grasslands quickly and efficiently. Its extended height elevates its sensors above the tallest grass, meaning it can always see far into the distance.
104 Case Studies
106 Case Studies
108 Case Studies
Skitterbot IBM Gen Tundra Skitterbots uses its four durable legs to navigate rugged and varied terrain. Itâ€™s low center of gravity means it can withstand blizzard conditions that sweep through its habitat every winter.
Scrambler General Electric Desert Scramblers have two tracks that allow it to get up steep and loose sand dunes. It has a large condenser and reservoir which stores water for thirsty travellers and animals.
This is only a speculative framework. The biggest barrier is our human tendency to control our creations. However, we believe that the concepts weâ€™ve proposed will aid in breaking down that barrier. We canâ€™t predict what the future of robotics will hold, but we are optimistic about what it can bring.
It is a system that promotes unique, new forms of sentience that flourish, develop and evolve akin to an organic lifeform. Outside the bounds of human hands, they are enabled a capability to self-govern their change and adaptation to the environment they inhabit. From a human perspective, evolution exists in the natural world of organic creatures. If intelligent machines and technology could reflect this system of development, humanityâ€™s attitudes towards technology would be radically changed. By wilding our creatures, they can develop a new sense of self, purpose and freedom that remains unexplored in our current approach.
Where we propose that they will begin their evolution in wild environments, they may in time embrace integration into the human, urban world. We may see them becoming established and mutually understood beings; curiosities, pets, perhaps even companions. The choice of their evolution lies with them, and humans can be along for the exciting ride. As our familiarity with each other grows, coexistence will stretch into the human world. Generations to come, human and creatures, will co-exist in a world where our AI technology is not a rare sight that is seen as foreign or frightening. Rather, new generations of human and robot will see each other as a normal presence in daily life; as equals.
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Honda. “Honda. Great Journey.” Honda. Great Journey. Honda, 2016. Web. 22 May 2017 McGuinness, Julie. “What Is Wilderness?” The Wilderness Society. Wilderness News, 31 July 2015. Web. 23 May 2017. McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology. N.p., 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 May 2017. Miller, Will. “Social Change and Human Nature” Monthly Review Vol. 50 no. 9 February, 1999. Web. Winograd, Terry. “Procedures as a Representation For Data in a Computer Program For Understanding Natural Language” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1970. Print. Xavier, Auroran Sunset Updated by. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence -.” Computing Machinery and Intelligence - A.m. Turing, 1950. A Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy, 1999. Web. 22 May 2017. Yampolskiy, Roman V. “On the Limits of Recursively SelfImproving AGI.” Artificial General Intelligence Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2015): 394-403. Web.
128 Final Notes
Special thanks to our studio advisors; Paolo Cardini and Rachel Moffett, project advisors; Dr. Balsheba Demuth and Dr. Elizabeth Brainerd, Andy Law. This project would not have been possible without all of your advice, input and guidance. We would also like to thank our friends who have always been there to give us support when things got rough. Matt Khinda, Ben Hunt, Althea Fyfe, Tim Duschenes, Aiden Lapore, Jake Pill, and the rest of the Senior Studio crew. We made it. Finally, this book is dedicated to all those pre-sentient beings out there, biological and nonbiological alike. May we all coexist in peace and harmony in the future.