Sunday, 12 December 2010

Interdisciplinary research, data ownership and open science

The artificial culture project team is starting to place data on its website and make it publically available – well some of it – the data from robot experiments. The data so far uploaded is text so file size is relatively small.

For developing the open science aspect of the project, along with Sajida Bhamjee, I am working out how to make available video of the robot experiments. This has raised technical issues that prompt me to reflect about data ownership.

To maintain the project data availability over many years, perhaps well after the current research team have moved on, we have chosen to use freely available web space from one of the major commercial suppliers, so have to work within the limitations of this. We could buy more space but we do not have a funding stream to support this into the future. We can set up web space in the name of the whole team with one quota of space, or each team member can set up personal spaces and thus gain access to a larger quota of space. In a team space with equity of access, everyone can change everything. In individual spaces the person running the space specifies what is shared with other individuals or open to the public, and specifies who can change items in that space. Using individual space for the project means as individuals, we are using space we might have used for other things.

When uploading onto You Tube, the film of the social scientists meeting the robots, filmed summer 2010, it was the first time I had done this and so I just followed the instructions and opened an individual account. When I then went to upload onto You Tube a video of robots imitating, it occurred to me that, apart from the intellectual contribution through project team meetings, all the work to produce the film had been by other team members. I felt uncomfortable about uploading it under my name. We went ahead as we were exploring technical aspects of sharing videos. Realising You Tube was not the best place for the video (as it was difficult for people to download it and this was important as the video needed to be on fast forward to be watchable) we turned to using google docs. However, we face the same problem: into who’s web space do we place the video?

When sharing data within a team where members undertake similar research – for me this is research using social science methods such as interviews – data is shared by the team even when only one or two team members actually collected the data. The rest of the team undertakes tasks to enable the data collection including gaining the funding, enabling access for recruitment of people to the study and supervising the data collection, and brings analysis expertise to the data. For projects where I didn’t collect the data, I know that given sufficient time (by which I mean time out from other tasks), I could collect the data myself - I have the skills to do this.

One of my uncomfortable feelings about uploading the video of the robots onto my You Tube website, was that I could not collect the data myself. It is just possible that given sufficient time to retrain as a roboticist I just might – but this would be a whole career not time out from teaching and administration. I can contribute to analysis of the data, but not in a way that would be sufficiently robust for critical review. It would be easy for me to interpret something about the robots that I thought was interesting. However a swarm roboticist might realise that this was a technological hitch interfering with our experiment rather than a result of the experiment.

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.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Tracks, roads, footpaths and social networking

As we develop our swarm of interacting robots, should we take consider introducing structures within our arena that are analogous to those at the micro-biological level inside cells? Packets of molecules move around cells along tracks or microtubules carried by molecular motors. See (the movie called Golgi H264-33 shows the tracks or microvilli with the packets of molecules moving along them). These tracks are influenced by what is carried along them and refashion themselves accordingly.

We can draw analogy with people - tracks, roads and footpaths that people move along, and perhaps with social networking where it is messages that move along.

The tracks take the molecule, the person or the message to the place where and interaction occurs - with another molecule, another person or the message is received by a person. At present, our robots can move in any direction within their arena. Should we consider having some tracks and meeting places?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Robot imitation experiments with children

I have spent much of the last few weeks pondering about the different ways in which I can show children the e-pucks imitating each other. I propose one of three different methods:

(1) Show the imitation video, ask the children what they think is happening and then show them the player stage animation film stating ‘this is what ‘actually’ happened’.

(2) Show the imitation video and the player stage animation film side by side.

(3) Show the imitation video alone.

However, I have concerns with all three methods. With the imitation videos alone, it is very hard to see the patterns (even when I know what I’m looking for!) From past experience, I have learnt that children will most likely give a response to a question regardless of whether they know the answer or not. Therefore will they just provide a response to please me? Conversely, if I show the children the player stage animation films, will I be ‘spoon feeding’ them with responses? Will I be making the patterns too apparent?. In addition, by demonstrating the imitation video next to the player stage animation film the children’s attention may be divided.

Another problem with robot videos is that it may not be as engaging as having embodied robots in front of the children. I suppose one might ask ‘Why don’t you take the robots to the children?’ Unfortunately, it is not a simple process of switching the robots ‘on’ and ‘off’. There are various tracking and logging pieces equipment that is only available at the robot lab.

After having a lengthy conversation with Andy (a fellow team member), he suggested that it may be possible for the robots to leave a ‘trail’ as they did the imitation. The benefit of that method instead of method number 2 (showing player stage animation film and imitation videos simultaneously) is that the children’s attention is less likely to be divided. This still however leaves the question of ‘am I making the patterns too obvious?’ The highlighted drawings (player stage animation) will clearly show that the robots are producing shapes. However, it is questionable as to whether children will associate this with imitation.