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.
October 31, 2014 - In one week we have seen two commercial space companies experience disasters. With Orbital Sciences it involved the loss of a rocket and resupply capsule destined for the International Space Station.
October 30, 2014 - IBM is using its Jeopardy-winning technology to help with medical diagnostics. That's a good thing. It is also being used to help businesses make better decisions. Also a good thing.
October 30, 2014 - Tuesday's failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket with the Cygnus resupply module and a Planetary Resources satellite aboard paints a sharp contrast with the achievements at SpaceX, Elon Musk's private rocket company.
October 29, 2014 - We are learning so much about the consequences of mistakes made with deep-water drilling for oil because of the BP 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
October 29, 2014 - It occurred to me that I am part of a phenomenon in the 21st century that can only have happened because of the invention of the Internet - freely distributed information to advance knowledge.
October 28, 2014 - The meaning of the German word "energiewende" is energy transition. Of all countries of the Developed World there is no doubt that Germany is transitioning faster to a low carbon economy than any other.
October 27, 2014 - Imagine transmitting energy through the air to power everything in your home. Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating electric current, predicted it would happen one day, but it is only now that we are seeing technologies that can do it.