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.
Testing Forecast Repeatability: Before and After Data on the Move from TechCast.org to TechCastGlobal.com
October 20, 2014 - A recent edition of the journal Nature Communications, includes an article entitled,
October 18, 2014 - Think about it. Why would a small island nation that gets 300+ sunny days a year and fairly constant ocean winds import coal, oil, diesel or liquid natural gas to provide power to its citizens? Why would island nations of volcanic origin with active and passive geothermal capacity not be harvesting these resources rather than burning fossil fuels?
October 17, 2014 - With the outbreak in West Africa teetering out of control, and with the first cases showing up outside of Africa, medical teams are on a fast track to understand how to contain and eradicate this deadly virus.
October 17, 2014 - In the world of fusion power we have an ongoing technology race between cold and hot fusion. Where traditional science sees cold fusion with dubious eyes, the investment in hot fusion research has been multiple billions of dollars with no commercial end result after several decades.
How can we accelerate a more successful future Digital Earth into the present? We can invent it and build it today, in our generation. We can add tomorrow’s immense digital future to our lives, our companies and our prosperity.
October 16, 2014 - The Netherlands, no stranger to coastal flooding, was the launch location for an international program focused on protecting vulnerable deltas worldwide. Announced in September in Rotterdam, the initiative intends to spawn new research and develop new tools aimed at responding to the threats to vulnerable delta and riverine coastal areas in the 21st century.