New Mergeable Nervous System Robots Can Share a Brain
Scientists develop the first robots capable of merging into a single-minded unit.
It sounds like something out of sci-fi, but scientists have just published a study in Nature announcing the development of the first autonomous robots that can merge their central processing units (CPUs) to create single a “hive” mind. Think the Borg in Star Trek TNG, or the bot swarms of the Matrix trilogy. The purpose of these new robots is, of course, not so diabolical. The idea is that they’re able to arrange themselves on the fly into different configurations for different tasks, and to suit different environments. Plus, they’re too cute to be evil.
Two bots and their ball (M. DORIGO AND NITHIN MATHEWS)
Prior to this breakthrough from Belgium’s Université Libre de Bruxelles, robots could cooperate, but that was “a little bit like if we had a bunch of people joining together to do something,” according to study coauthor Marco Dorigo. Each of those previous robots had its own sensors and CPUs, or “nervous system,” along with a pre-determined shape. As such, the study notes, a team of “modular robots lack the essential ingredient that enables complex sensorimotor responses in higher order animals, namely a nervous system that spans the whole body and transforms a composite system into a single, holistic entity.”
The new robots are mergeable nervous system (MNS) devices. Once merged as a group, one robot serves as a single “brain unit” and has access to all of the individual robots’ sensors and actuators, allowing the group to behave as a unified, fluid organism. (Each robot also retains an awareness of its own hardware.) And since the robots communicate wirelessly via WiFi, they don’t even need to be touching, allowing the creation of all sorts of arrangements.
In this video, you can see the MNS robots gather and then disperse into a variety of shapes. The red ones are the brain units.
(M. DORIGO AND NITHIN MATHEWS)
Even more impressive, a group — having just one “mind,” after all — can cohesively respond to an external stimulus. In this video, a stimulus approaches individual units at first, causing them to point out the threat to each other. Then the little green bully goes after merged groups.
(M. DORIGO AND NITHIN MATHEWS)
Groups are also self-aware to a degree, capable of diagnosing unit failure thanks to a “heartbeat protocol”:
Heartbeats, that is, periodic signals sent to indicate normal operation, are generated by the brain unit and sent through the robot nervous system at a fixed frequency. The absence of a heartbeat from a parent robotic unit tells a child robotic unit that its parent unit is faulty, while the absence of an acknowledgment from a child robotic unit tells the parent unit that its child unit is faulty.
When a fault is detected, the group can heal itself.
(M. DORIGO AND NITHIN MATHEWS)
At this point, the MNS bots attach to each other in just two dimensions via simple, rigid connectors. The study’s authors intend to next develop a more fluid connection capability that allows the robots to arrange themselves in three dimensions, and with flexible joints.
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Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
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