Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mimetic Factors in Health and Well-being

On Monday I gave a talk at an amazingly interesting workshop in Warwick. Part of a project called Mimetic Factors in Health and Well-being, the workshop brought together a very diverse range of disciplines: sociology, medicine, systems science and robotics (and I may have missed a few).

Project lead, Steve Fuller, gave a great talk which reflected on both memetics (pre-Dawkins), and mimesis in advertising and PR. I found myself being introduced first to French sociologist Gabriel Tarde who, who - according to Steve Fuller - first articulated the pivotal role of imitation in society. Then to contemporary French social and cognitive scientist, and by the looks of it all round genius, Dan Sperber. I can see that I have to add Sperber to my reading list!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Project Meeting in Warwick

Yesterday we had a full artificial culture project team meeting in Warwick, following on from the EmergeNet meeting on Thursday (see my blog post). An excellent meeting, significant because we are now exactly half way through the project. Having spent much of the first two years of the project building the artificial culture lab, the project is now moving into the experimental phase. Having built our microscope we can now start looking through it.

The experimental phase of the project brings new challenges and we spent much of yesterday's meeting discussing and crystallising the detailed research questions that our experiments must address. Of course project team members each have questions and ideas that we want to address within our respective disciplines, but there must be overarching project-wide questions. Alistair led this discussion, wisely warning against the 'so what' problem ("Hey we've discovered x. Hmm interesting, but so what"). Taking a theory motivated approach, Alistair proposes four research questions addressing some key problems with the memetic theory of cultural evolution:
  1. What is the effect of fidelity of imitation on meme transmission?
  2. What is the effect of selection?
  3. What is the effect of size/granularity (of the meme)?
  4. What is the effect of complexity within the meme?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Lying Robots

Andy Guest wrote:

A colleague just sent me a link to an article on Wired. An experiment on evolving robot signalling.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Chimpanzee culture on Material World

There was a great piece on this afternoon's Material World - an interview with Andrew Whiten about cultural traditions in chimpanzees. Andrew Whiten makes the very interesting observation that while many animals appear to have 'traditions' (i.e. separate groups of the same bird species with different birdsong), chimpanzee have dozens of traditions. Does this mean that chimps have culture? I think so, yes.

Chimp culture appears, however, to have remained relatively static - Whiten observes that archeological investigation has shown traditions to have persisted for hundreds if not thousands of years. Longer, I would suspect, given that anatomically modern chimps have been around for over six million years. In other words, the big bang of human cultural evolution has never happened for chimps. What cognitive deficit in chimps might account for this..?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Artificial Culture web pages now up

Check out our new Artificial Culture project web pages:

These have been built using Google Sites. A remarkably straightforward way to create both the structure and content for a set of web pages, without HTML coding (actually I did have to tweak the code a couple of times). Integration with other Google applications means, for instance, that creating a slide show of images needs you only to upload the images to a Picasa album, then insert the slideshow gadget and point to the Picasa URL. Add another image to the album and it automatically appears in your web site slide show.

There is one limitation: while invited collaborators can sign-in and add comments - in blog fashion - to existing posts (as well as create and edit new pages), ordinary visitors to the web site cannot. Given that blog functionality is clearly built into the sites technology, it ought to be straightforward to provide an option to allow comments to be submitted, to selected pages, by non signed-in visitors. Or a blog gadget. Google..?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A working definition for artificial culture

Written by Alan Winfield (transfered by Frances Griffiths prior to deletion of a Wiki page)
There are many definitions for Culture - see for instance the Wiki article on Culture. Most, perhaps not surprisingly, are human centred. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, defines culture simply as "patterns of human behaviour".

In this project we clearly need a working definition for culture, or to be precise, artificial culture, that makes sense both for robots, but has sufficient generality to allow us to (possibly) construct hypotheses about the processes and mechanisms for the emergence of human culture by analogy with our emerging artificial (robot) culture. (If, indeed, anything we can claim as artificial culture does emerge.)

A folk-definition of culture is simply the way we do things around here. This has some merit firstly because it is not species specific, and might apply to humans, whales, robots, or aliens. And secondly, because it is a differential rather than absolute definition - implying that the way one group does things is different to the way another group does (the same?) things.

Let me propose a working definition for artificial culture based on this:

Artificial (robot) culture is defined as: sustained and measurable emerging differences in behaviour between two or more groups of robots, where those groups have divided or split off from a common ancestral group, and the behaviours are traceable to common root behaviours in the ancestral group.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Welcome to the project blog for the Artificial Culture project.

For earlier blogs on this project click here.