February 14, 2014 - If you think Data from Star Trek is the future of robotics, then think again. More and more it appears that the vast majority of our robot companions will not be humanlike at all, but rather come in multiple sizes and shapes with functionality to perform specific tasks.
With the interconnectedness of the Internet, robots will be able to share intelligence and collectively respond to tasks much like a colony of ants or termites. The TERMES Project at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, in cooperation with that university's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, are demonstrating just how swarm intelligence can work.
Results of the project are published in today's issue of the journal Science. Modeled after termites, the Harvard team created a group of individual robots that work collectively as a construction crew. Their job - to build complex three-dimensional structures without any central authority to guide them, just their combined intelligence. The TERMES robots built towers, pyramids and castles made of foam bricks. When needed they constructed staircases to reach higher levels.
There is no resemblance in the action of these little robots to how humans go up constructing things. We develop hierarchies with architects, project managers, site foreman and workers when doing construction of this type. Not the TERMES robots. They do their work the same way termites and ants go about building a mound. No individual supervises. Instead they use stigmergic collaboration, a collective form of self-organization that uses individual observation and communication leading to appropriate combined responses. Think of how Wikipedia has been assembled and you see a form of stigmergy. Or open source projects like Mozilla Firefox, also benefiting from stigmergic collaboration.
Each TERMES robot executes a job without consideration of other robots around them doing similar work. You can have 5,000 of these little fellows all performing similar actions leading to astounding results. The world of insects demonstrate just how effective collective intelligence based on swarm behaviour can be. Look at the elegance of bee hives, or the complex structures of termite mounds and ant colonies.
How would we harness the power of these little guys? Think about dealing with emergencies like earthquake rescue after a building collapses with thousands of TERMES robots digging out those trapped in the ruins. Or how about sending them by the hundreds of thousands to Mars where they could construct the habitats that arriving astronauts could immediately occupy.
This is a world of difference from Data but nonetheless, TERMES is a powerful demonstration of the future uses of artificial intelligence.
Related articles across the web
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
Free Email Newsletter
To sign up for Futurist Update, our free monthly email newsletter, enter your email in the box below and click Save.
What happens in the Middle East reverberates across the world. There lie the roots and holiest historical places of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There lies the frontier between East and West. And much of the world’s remaining oil is found in this prized and disputed region.
When we look into space we are actually looking back in time. This is because we are looking at old light traveling towards us at 186,000 miles/second. We already know that if someone is watching us through a large telescope on the Moon, they’re seeing events that happened 1.3 seconds earlier because that’s how long it takes light to reach Earth. Using this as a very crude proof, we already know that information does indeed transcend the here and now, but can we ever access it and reassemble it into a useful form?
The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has implications for world health that cannot be ignored. The disease has killed more than 660 and infected almost 1,100 in four countries since March of this year and new cases are cropping up every day.
The images that Curiosity is sending back from Gale Crateris showing soil profiles similar to the ancient soil found in the dry valleys of Antarctica and in the alto-Plano of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. The soil images and data indicate chemical weathering and accumulations of clay just as one would find them here on Earth. Phosphorus depletion, associated with microbial activity here on Earth, is evident from the information Curiosity has gathered.
Nikolai Kardashev, a Soviet astrophysicist born in 1932, devised a method of rating advanced civilizations. Technological advances, according to Kardashev, could theoretically create conditions where a society could maximize use of energy. He categorized each of these stages as Type 1 through Type 4. Based on Kardashev's speculations where does our civilization sit today?
Powdery mildew-resistant wheat has been created using a pair of DNA-clipping and insertion tools. These are tools developed by Editas Medicine for editing defective DNA and are being used in the fight against a number of genetic diseases. And with wheat they are proving to be useful in overcoming the devastating impact of mildew.
This is not the first time I have written about the future of the Colorado River Basin and it probably won't be the last. But by then I may be describing the Colorado wadi, a former river.
In tomorrow’s digital world control shifts to you. Your digital boundaries will dynamically change the CGI green screen world on your devices’ screens. When you can choose who and where you really want to be, we will learn there are many kinds of greatness in all of us. It will be new stage of history, an age when we control reality and start choosing everything.