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. isal, ALIFE 2022: The 2022 Conference on Artificial Life14, (July 18–22, 2022) doi: 10.1162/isal_a_00492
Our modern world is teeming with non-biological agents, whose growing complexity brings them so close to living beings that they can be cataloged as artificial creatures, i.e., a form of Artificial Life (ALife). Ranging from disembodied intelligent agents to robots of conspicuous dimensions, all these artifacts are united by the fact that they are designed, built, and possibly trained by humans taking inspiration from natural elements. Hence, humans play a fundamental role in relation to ALife, both as creators and as final users, which calls attention to the need of studying the mutual influence of human and artificial life. Here we attempt an experimental investigation of the reciprocal effects of the human-ALife interaction. To this extent, we design an artificial world populated by life-like creatures, and resort to open-ended evolution to foster the creatures adaptation. We allow bidirectional communication between the system and humans, who can observe the artificial world and voluntarily choose to perform positive or negative actions towards the creatures populating it; those actions may have a short- or long-term impact on the artificial creatures. Our experimental results show that the creatures are capable of evolving under the influence of humans, even though the impact of the interaction remains uncertain. In addition, we find that ALife gives rise to disparate feelings in humans who interact with it, who are not always aware of the importance of their conduct.
On the Entanglement between Evolvability and Fitness: an Experimental Study on Voxel-based Soft Robots
. isal, ALIFE 2022: The 2022 Conference on Artificial Life15, (July 18–22, 2022) doi: 10.1162/isal_a_00493
The concept of evolvability, that is the capacity to produce heritable and adaptive phenotypic variation, is crucial in the current understanding of evolution. However, while its meaning is intuitive, there is no consensus on how to quantitatively measure it. As a consequence, in evolutionary robotics, it is hard to evaluate the interplay between evolvability and fitness and its dependency on key factors like the evolutionary algorithm (EA) or the representation of the individuals. Here, we propose to use MAP-Elites, a well-established Quality Diversity EA, as a support structure for measuring evolvability and for highlighting its interplay with fitness. We map the solutions generated during the evolutionary process to a MAP-Elites-like grid and then visualize their fitness and evolvability as maps. This procedures does not affect the EA execution and can hence be applied to any EA: it only requires to have two descriptors for the solutions that can be used to meaningfully characterize them. We apply this general methodology to the case of Voxel-based Soft Robots (VSR), a kind of modular robots with a body composed of uniform elements whose volume is individually varied by the robot brain. Namely, we optimize the robots for the task of locomotion using evolutionary computation. We consider four representations, i.e., ways of transforming a genotype into a robot, two for the brain only and two for both body and brain of the VSR, and two EAs (MAP-Elites and a simple evolutionary strategy) and examine the evolvability and fitness maps. The experiments suggest that our methodology permits us to discover interesting patterns in the maps: fitness maps appear to depend more on the representation of the solution, whereas evolvability maps appear to depend more on the EA. As an aside, we find that MAP-Elites is particularly effective in the simultaneous evolution of the body and the brain of Voxel-based Soft Robots.
. isal2020, ALIFE 2020: The 2020 Conference on Artificial Life190-198, (July 13–18, 2020) doi: 10.1162/isal_a_00276
Adaptation of agents in artificial life scenarios is especially effective when agents may evolve, i.e., inherit traits from their parents, and learn by interacting with the environment. The learning process may be boosted with forms of social learning , i.e., by allowing an agent to learn by combining its experiences with knowledge transferred among agents. In this work, we tackle two specific questions regarding social learning and evolution: (a) from whom learners should learn? (b) how should knowledge be transferred? We address these questions by experimentally investigating two scenarios: a simple one in which the mechanism for evolution and learning is easily interpretable; a more complex and realistic artificial life scenario in which agents compete for survival. Experimental results show that social learning is more profitable when (a) the learners learn from a small set of good teachers and (b) the knowledge to be transferred is determined by teachers experience, rather than learner experience.
. isal2020, ALIFE 2020: The 2020 Conference on Artificial Life570-577, (July 13–18, 2020) doi: 10.1162/isal_a_00248
We consider a multi-agent system in which the individual goal is to collect resources, but where the amount of collected resources depends also on others decision. Agents can communicate and can take advantage of being communicated other agents’ plan: therefore they may develop more profitable strategies. We wonder if some kind of collective behaviour, with respect to communication, emerges in this system without being explicitly promoted. To investigate this aspect, we design three different scenarios, respectively a cooperative, a competitive, and a mixed one, in which agents’ behaviors are individually learned by means of reinforcement learning. We consider different strategies concerning communication and learning, including no-communication, always-communication, and optional-communication. Experimental results show that always-communication leads to a collective behaviour with the best results in terms of both overall earned resources and equality between agents. On the other hand optional-communication strategy leads to similar collective strategies in some of these scenarios, but in other scenarios some agents develop individual behaviours that oppose to the collective welfare and thus result in high inequality.
. isal2019, ALIFE 2019: The 2019 Conference on Artificial Life574-581, (July 29–August 2, 2019) doi: 10.1162/isal_a_00223
Soft robots allow for interesting morphological and behavioral designs because they exhibit more degrees of freedom than robots composed of rigid parts. In particular, voxel-based soft robots (VSRs) —aggregations of elastic cubic building blocks—have attracted the interest of Robotics and Artificial Life researchers. VSRs can be controlled by changing the volume of individual blocks: simple, yet effective controllers that do not exploit the feedback of the environment, have been automatically designed by means of Evolutionary Algorithms (EAs). In this work we explore the possibility of evolving sensing controllers in the form of artificial neural networks: we hence allow the robot to sense the environment in which it moves. Although the search space for a sensing controller is larger than its non-sensing counterpart, we show that effective sensing controllers can be evolved which realize interesting locomotion behaviors. We also experimentally investigate the impact of the VSR morphology on the effectiveness of the search and verify that the sensing controllers are indeed able to exploit their sensing ability for better solving the locomotion task.