Evolution of altruistic cooperation and communication in robot societies

Discovery Magazine reports on a continuation of experiments involving evolvable robots, communication and concepts such as altruistic cooperation and lying.

By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate—lighting up, in three out of four colonies, to alert the others when they’d found food or poison. The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

Some robots, though, were veritable heroes. They signaled danger and died to save other robots. “Sometimes,” Floreano says, “you see that in nature—an animal that emits a cry when it sees a predator; it gets eaten, and the others get away—but I never expected to see this in robots.”

Fascinating how simple processes of variation and selection can explain the evolution of altruism, cooperation as well as cheating. What has ID done recently that increases our understanding of how cooperation, cheating and altruism arose?

Nothing really

I do not have access to the paper yet but others have presented outlines of the work

The research of Floreano and colleagues is reported in the March 2007 issue of Current Biology. The researchers created four conditions for their experiments, varying the relatedness of the robots (how similar their ‘genes’ and programming were) and whether selection was on an individual level or colony level: “In the individual-level selection regime, the genomes of the 20% robots with the highest individual performance … were selected to form the next generation, whereas in the colony-level selection regime, we randomly selected all robots… from the 20% most efficient colonies” (p.514).

‘Deceptive’ communication only evolved when the robots were not closely ‘related’ to each other and selection was on an individual rather than a colony level. In this condition, “an analysis of individual behaviors revealed that … robots tended to emit blue light when far away from the food.” Despite this, and “contrary to what one would expect, the robots still tended to be attracted rather than repelled by blue light… ” (p.517).

Dario Floreano, Sara Mitri, Stéphane Magnenat and Laurent Keller (2007). Evolutionary Conditions for the Emergence of Communication in Robots. Current Biology 17(6), 514-519