Saturday, August 16, 2014

Emergent Behavior, Robots, and Singularity

Detritus evolving in slow-moving stream: 8/30/10
CC Jean Stimmell
According to a recent Reuters’ news report: They look vaguely like miniature hockey pucks skittering along on three pin-like metal legs, but a swarm of small robots called Kilobots at a laboratory at Harvard University is making a little bit of history for automatons everywhere. Researchers who created a battalion of 1,024 of these robots said on Thursday the mini-machines are able to communicate with one another and organize themselves into two-dimensional shapes like letters of the alphabet.
In a recent blog, I write about an eerily similar process: swarming phenomena in nature, this time evolving spontaneously through emergent behavior.

I quote Joseph Cambray’s definition of emergent behavior: it is a process that happens whenever “particles interact with one another, whatever they are, whether people or atoms, and if they interact in a competitive environment, they have the capacity to self organize, and once they start to self organize, you get new properties that are completely unexpected, that’s what emergence is.”[i] 

Cambray uses a mind-blowing example:

This was something I picked up in some scientific publications, it had nothing to do with psychology. These are beetle larvae from the Mojave desert. They tend to clump, a number of them all get on to a little branch, and… they make a kind of lumpy shape that apparently looks enough like a female bee, and gives off the right pheromone, that male bees try to come and mate with this clump. In the process, these beetle larvae, which are parasitic, attach themselves to some of the chest hairs of the male bee, and then when the male bee leaves, he carries them around to an actual mating event with a female, they transfer on her back, they’re carried by her to the hive, where they then eat the pollen. If they don’t do this, this is what’s remarkable, if they don’t do this, they can’t complete their life cycle. So that the creation of this bee-like structure is an emergent form. There’s no image inside these creatures to build a bee, and there’s nobody telling them how to do this, it’s a spontaneous self-organization into that form.[ii] 

If Cambray is correct that there was no image programed inside these creatures to build a model of a bee; and if, in fact, there’s no one telling the larvae how to do this, then this is, indeed, an example of spontaneous self-organization.

Remember that spontaneous self-organization is an inherent function of Mother Nature, happening whenever particles interact with one another in a competitive environment, whether the particles be atoms, animals or people.

If that’s indeed the case, why won’t the swarm of tiny robots built in Harvard’s laboratory also exercise emergent behavior: developing new properties that are completely unexpected.

We may be witnessing the first faltering steps of a unique type of singularity. Could it be that emergent behavior is Mother Nature’s way to coevolve through human technology?

[i] Transcribed from : Shrink Rap Radio #311: Synchronicity and the Interconnected Universe Page 9 of 23
[ii] Shrink Rap Radio #311: Synchronicity and the Interconnected Universe Page 15 of 23. Transcribed from
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