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Electronic Evolution: Research Show Robots Forming Human-like Societies


A lone group of Swiss scientists have been using scattered LEDs, neural circuity, and an army of miniature robots to explore the very basis of good and evil.  No, you aren't reading the back cover of a DVD in the "one dollar each, please get this trash out of our store" bin of your local blockbuster -this research is very real and very, very awesome.

Dario Floreano and his team at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology built a swarm of mobile robots, outfitted with light bulbs and photodetectors.  These were set loose in a zone with illuminated "food" and "poison" zones which charged or depleted their batteries.  Their programming was initially random, so the first generation staggered around the place like bunch of concussed puppies.

At intervals, the robots were shut down and those that had the most charge left in their batteries were chosen as "successful", and their neural programming was combined to produce the next generation of the robots.  These offspring are downloaded into the same mechanical bodies their parents inhabited, forming an closed-circuit Buddhist system which might be an extremely efficient method of maintaining a stable population, but will provide a serious headache for any robot philosophers who might turn up.

Which could happen before long.  Within fifty generations of this electronic evolution, co-operative societies of robots had formed - helping each other to find food and avoid poison.  Even more amazing is the emergence of cheats and martyrs.  Transistorized traitors emerged which wrongly identified poison zone as food, luring their trusting brethren to their doom before scooting off to silently charge in a food zone - presumably while using a mechanical claw to twirl a silicon carving of a handlebar moustache.

You might be upset by this result, scientific proof that those who say "Evil is utterly fundamental to human nature" actually understates the scope of the problem, there were also silicon souls on the side of the angels.  Some robots advanced fearlessly into poison zones, flashing warning lights to keep other robots out of harms way.

At this rate of evolution, how long before we start to see other behaviors?  Maybe polarized priests, warning other robots not to eat any food so that they may receive infinite food after they're switched off.  Or actorbots, given huge quantities of food because they can pretend to be turned off by poison really well?

Posted by Luke McKinney.

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Evolving robot societies


Link to thread discussing this article, on

" forming a closed - circuit Buddhist system "......
Do robots / androids dream of electric Bodhisattvas ?

Sorry about the digression, but that intrigued me. Really.


Funny article, and interesting nonetheless.

"Maybe polarized priests, warning other robots not to eat any food so that they may receive infinite food after they're switched off."

It's hilarious until they start blowing each other up lol...

Interesting - where did the programming for the robots come from? did it also evolve out of nothing or was their intelligent programmers writing the programs? This experiment only proves that intelligent input it required to get the robots to do whatever they are doing. They didn't evolve their behaviours from scratch.

Ahmed - I think they used " Fuzzy logic ", open - ended ( ? ) system where an A.I. can learn from experience, if my research is correct.

Robots with video cameras, audio input, tactile sensors, & the software to learn from experiences --
Interesting times, indeed.

How long before the robots seek out the individuals who placed the poison in their midst seeking vengeance or justice for their fallen commrades? Who would do the seeking. The robots of good intent or the evil robots?

Ahmed - I think they used " Fuzzy logic ", open - ended ( ? ) system where an A.I. can learn from experience, if my research is correct.

Robots with video cameras, audio input, tactile sensors, & the software to learn from experiences --
Interesting times, indeed.

Posted by: EvilCosmicMonkeyfrom Knoxville | May 21, 2009 at 11:52 PM

Sssshhhhh! Don't let ahmed know that. It'll make his head explode. He's content thinking we did the programming which allows him to believe that Allah or Yahweh or Yeshua programmed him...which also means other people are programmed to fly planes into buildings and blow themselves up, or molest little children in sunday school.

what does the picture have to do with this story ??

To rick: Nothing - it just looks neat.

To ahmed: The system is probably one of those that use a preset "neural" system (effectively filled with 0's in the coding) that link to the muscle-mechanical system. Over time, coding fills in with 1s where appropriate in correlation to the muscle-mechanical system as to be of benefit as random 1s found their way onto the neural system. Read: natural selection (some laymen simply call it simply "evolution," it's a shame) with AI gene pools. - all such systems I know of use this or something similar.

To Cosmogeist: Well, that comment just showed your atheist bigotry. Of course, I'm the only one with any college level degree in philosophy here... so no one else will get this reference. *ponders deeply* Well, putting it up for passer-by won't hurt...

But what does that teach us besides that only fringe groups use this site? ;)

This story reminds me of "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon.

Can anyone say "SKYNET"? I love this idea, make robots learn, incentivise them, and they grow organically. Amazing times indeed.

This will lead to our doom.

An interesting thing to discuss on the back of this article would be whether you can really call this a display of good and evil amongst machines. Surely it is something else; doesn't the robot make a decision based on what it understands from sensors and programming, and therefore has no ultimate choice based on 'conscience'?

To Just Another Perl Hacker:

A degree in philosophy? I'm all for liberal arts, 'bro, but about the only thing that is good for is a 2 year degree to get into a 4-year school; and producing and sorting through mountains of BS.

And no, you do not need a square of toilet paper in philosophy to get the reference ;P

@Just Another PERLhacker
What reference? Allah, Yahweh, and Yeshua? My 4 year old cousin knows those names.


It is impossible that the "program/routine" that is downloaded from "generation to generation" is nothing other than the pure sum total of each previous robots "experience" without any guidance from the programmers.

For a robot to "evolve" into a state of being where it actively "chooses" to mislead "fellow comrades" into the poison zones on the basis that itself would have more "food", implies that they are coded to consider the receipt of "food" to be good as opposed to bad. The only alternative is to assume the robots were conscious from the beginning and therefore able to make subjective decisions, albeit binary, which is ofcourse not true.

Clearly the full details with regards to the extent of the robots programming isn't being revealed in this short article.

A very poor attempt by those that are unable to accept that darwin is wrong, perhaps one day "they" (darwinian junkies) will evolve themselves :)

One last thought for the darwinian junkies to ponder upon :) How do you expect to create anything above and beyond your level of thought, when your thinking process is a closed circuit itself, based upon the principles of natural selection?

There's a sucker born every minute, and they end up as "scientists" as opposed to philosophers :)

"It's hilarious until they start blowing each other up lol..."

One can only wonder if someone's observing us, with similar thoughts...

articles like this are why stumbleupon needs a double thumbs up option

Perhaps you are the only one with a BA in philosophy here, as I have a masters. (big dick contest won...until the phds get here)

The philosophical errors in this post and the following comments are so varied and multitudinous one could perhaps earn a phd merely by taking the gargantuan effort to refute them one by one—a simply task, yes; but an enormous undertaking as well.

I shall only begin by noting the pervasive anthropomorphism involved in the author description of the robots behavior. This is of course the fatal flaw in your argument, as it begs the question entirely. You claim that robots have demonstrated human like behavior, and yet it is your who have merely interpreted their behavior as human-like. There are birds, insects, fish, and myriad other creatures which exhibit apparent forms of deception and altruism—all of which may be anthropomorphized, but which are more effectively described and predictable within the discourse of evolutionary ecology and behavioral ecology. These machines are not exhibiting human-like behavior; they are exhibiting robot-like behavior, in the same way that birds are bird-like and and fish are fish-like.

In fact, we have no reason to assume at all that robots would evolve human-like intelligence or reasoning whatsoever, especially considering the vast differences that characterize human and computer/robotic memory and recall, as well as in processing capacities and in sensory equipment. No doubt the likelihood that human and robotic intelligence would not resemble one another is increased in any robot system that develops itself outside of direct human involvement (i.e., Evolutionary Computation); we can of course always *try* to make robots that resemble ourselves, but left to their own devices (sorry, no pun intended), I have serious doubts about their resemblance to humans at all.

stumbled here, but will bookmark to check responses.


Jesus fucking christ people, just fucking enjoy the interesting research. You're all pricks. Goddamn.

Any individual who believes that the measure of philosopical knowledge that another person beholds, can be determined by the letters after their name such as BA, Masters, PHD, quite simply isn't a philosopher.... I'm afraid academic dogma purveys the philosophical school just as far as the "sciences".

Accuracy comes from within, as opposed to without, and within has no visible form and therefore no letters.

Hey, 618, you meant "pervades", not "purveys". How about you stick to using words that you understand instead of trying to use big boy words and getting it wrong?

Well, you can always identify an individual who is incapable of debating the issue at hand, as they spend their entire time searching for grammatical errors... its a phenomena that never fails to bring a smile to my facial expression :)

"Purveys" is entirely correct usage of the English language.

Some folks....

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