Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Investigating social networks

How do we operationalise the notion of social networks for the robots in the artificial culture project?

In the social world embedded in the biological and physical world, interaction occurs between individual people (agents), between organisations or groups of people acting almost as if a single agents, and between individual people and organisations/groups. I am deliberatly being vague about what consitutes an organisation or group – it could be a clique of friends or a nation of people – there are questions about the location of boundaries between organisations or groups that I am not tackling here, nor the issue that individual people make up the organisations and groups.

Messages (information, ideas, stories, advice etc) move between agents – individuals as agents and organisations/groups as agents. The locations and modes of interaction are very varied and include broadcast media, face to face interaction, interaction via the internet. There are different constraints and different potentials for what is exchanged, between whom and the timing of any exchanges – synchronous or asynchronous and by how much.

The messages and the agents are often to some extent distinct. It could be argued that there will be emergence from message interaction, which might be culture or norms, and emergence from agent interaction, what might be considered as social structures, and from the interaction of messages and agents. Agents change messages and messages change agents. Agents and messages also influence the mode of interaction. Society is complex and trying to unpack it is difficult. With the robots, we are starting with individual robots and attempting to enable the development of a simple version of this.

In the artificial culture we might consider the robots as the agents. Currently they are programmed to look for a signal from another robot, watch the robot’s dance (pattern of movement) then, after signaling, imitate what the robot observed. Meanwhile other robots are looking for a signal and then observing to then signal and imitate. The message that is transmitted from one robot to another is the dance. So we have an interaction – that of observation and imitation of each other.

One link in a human social network is usually defined qualitatively in terms such as friends or best friends or more quantitatively in terms of amount of social interaction such as talking to someone, with a measure of frequency the interaction. Many of the studies on social networks, at least those related to health (my area of interest), are cross sectional studies and so not concerned with formation of social networks. Those that are longitudinal still start from an existing social network. So, do we programme a social network into the robot swarm or do we programme a behaviour that might lead to the development of a social network?

We could design a social network consisting of robots with a propensity to more quickly notice the signaling of the robots they are linked to, compared to robots to which they are not linked. I think this could be achieved through radio signals.

An alternative is to programme each robot to notice which robots do a dance that is most similar to their last dance (within a certain duration) and to then notice this signaling of this robot more quickly than other robots.

Doubtless this needs more refinement.


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