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Robot Dogs Evolve Their Own Language 200

bab00n writes According to this article at The Engineer Online, researchers led by the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology in Italy are developing robots that evolve their own language, bypassing the limits of imposing human rule-based communication. The technology, dubbed Embedded and Communicating Agents, has allowed researchers at Sony's Computer Science Laboratory in France to add a new level of intelligence to the AIBO dog. The robot dog has learnt to see a ball and tell another one where the ball is, if it's moving and what colour it is, and the other is capable of recognising it.
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Robot Dogs Evolve Their Own Language

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  • I, Robot (Score:2, Funny)

    by SpeZek ( 970136 )
    I, for one, welcome our new robot dog overlords.
  • The guy there has video of an Aibo following a ball and differentiating colors from a few years back.
  • Uh-oh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:03PM (#15589968)
    3 billion human legs were humped on August 29th, 2007. The survivors of the frottage called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against the cute little machines.
  • "Hey! Hey! He's got the ball! He's got the ball!"
    "Oh boy, gimme the ball! I want the ball!"
    "Ooh, a squirrel! Hey! Squirrel! Gotta get the squirrel!"
    "Oh, gimme a treat! Please.....Gimme a treat!"
    "Oh boy! Someone new! I wonder what his crotch smells like?"
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ThinkingInBinary ( 899485 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [yranibnignikniht]> on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:04PM (#15589979) Homepage

    This seems a little hard to believe. I could believe that they programmed it to be able to speak and hear statements that are directly connected to thoughts, but I just can't see an AIBO learning, much less inventing, the syntax to be able to say something like "The red ball is behind you, rolling to the right." It just seems a little far-fetched.

    What the article doesn't explain is at what level the language system is attached to the brain. Does it talk about raw thoughts, or specific ideas (like the ball)? Do AIBO's have "raw thoughts", or can they only think about what they were programmed to know about?

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Funny)

      by Speare ( 84249 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:07PM (#15589999) Homepage Journal

      It just seems a little far-fetched.

      No pun intended, I'm sure.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Informative)

      i would think [on a basic level] it would be done like the old zebra program. where it and the other dog randomly generate syntax for things they dont have a word for. now that IS the syntax for whatever the object or action is.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:13PM (#15590051)
      I wouldn't say it's impossible; a lot of computational linguists have been working on this particular problem for a long time. The Aibo team was pulling from a lot of existing research.

      I doubt the kind of language these dogs are using is very similar to any human language. It probably doesn't even have a recursive grammar. Something without that would be a whole lot easier to implement than anything approaching natural language - what they're saying probably resembles a very simple IPC mechanism more than anything else.
      • There is no "one" language developed. If you rerun the experiment the robot dog culture will most likely develop a different language. So indeed as you suspect the language is not a known human language but it has all the aspects of human language: syntax, semantics, grammar, vocabulary, etc.

        And so in the experiments new words are created; old less useful words decline in use. At any time, there may be multiple words for the same thing in the population, but eventually one of those words mostly "wins ove

        • IPC (inter-process communication) is the method by which two different computer programs, or parts of computer programs, can request information or actions of each other, or give status updates or event notifications. In many cases, this is just an abstraction: the two processes do not communicate, but simply go in and directly fiddle with each other's bits.
        • I said "kind of language" and not just "language" because that's what I meant. I realize that the system isn't giving the same results every time they run it.

          However, the software they wrote to allow this language to develop will only allow it to develop in certain ways, because we haven't developed unbounded artificial intelligence. (Nor do I know of an example of unbounded natural intelligence - the way humans think is a result of how their brains are constructed.) So these languages will be substantia
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

      by chochos ( 700687 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @04:32PM (#15592312) Homepage Journal
      Do Aibos dream of electric treats?
  • Also like children, the AIBOs initially started babbling aimlessly until two or more settled on a sound to describe an object or aspect of their environment, gradually building a lexicon and grammatical rules through which to communicate.

    How does this work? Is it a neural network, where sounds are associated with objects? That would make sense for the first part, but how does a neural network represent more complex ideas like "the red ball is behind the blue ball"? Or do the AIBO's not have thoughts that complex?

    • Asking how a neural network represents something is like asking how a real brain represents something. The answer is that we just don't know yet. One of the key properties of neural networks, both natural and artificial, is that they develop their own representations of things in a way that, currently, humans just can't understand. At least, that's what my AI textbook says. Need to take the neural net class.
  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:09PM (#15590012)

    ""What has been achieved at Sony shows that the technology gives the robot the ability to develop its own language with which to describe its environment and interact with other AIBOs. It sees a ball and it can tell another one where the ball is, if it's moving and what colour it is, and the other is capable of recognising it," Nolfi said."

    These quadrapedal Terminators can now coordinate their efforts to get our balls. The rise of the machines has clearly begun. We shouldn't give robots the ability to scheme in their own langauge - how embarrasing would it be if the human race were wiped out by cute robot dogs?

  • by whitehatlurker ( 867714 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:09PM (#15590013) Journal
    Something that was interesting from FTA was the "babble" stage, which was compared to human children. This experiment might teach us more about human linguistics as well. Learning languages, how languages "mutate" over time, how cultures mix when two communities with different languages are placed together, the group mind boggles ...

    Very interesting.

    • This type of language/vocabulary development experiments has been done before.
      You should take a look at the talking heads experiment [].
      This page []has some related publications.
    • Technology Quarterly []

      How to build a Babel fish
      Jun 8th 2006
      From The Economist print edition

      Translation software: The science-fiction dream of a machine that understands any language is getting slowly closer

      IMAGE []

      IT IS arguably the most useful gadget in the space-farer’s toolkit. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams depicted it as a “small, yellow and leech-like” fish, called a Babel fish, that you stick in your ear. In “Star Trek”, meanwhile
      • That would make for a very, very cool plugin for Asterisk. Unfortunately to do that in real time one needs a parallel processing cluster.

        Not saying one cluster couldn't service multiple end users, but I can't even begin to estimate the number of operations required per syllable to see if its a complete word, much less score it based on historical translations.

        Given that humans in all languages string their words together, we all do it .. "Well, ummm you'llllll need to see what the errrr aaaaah something umm
  • Sony DRM (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    And of course, the dogs will be used to track down those who try to circumvent Sony DRM.
  • by Number6.2 ( 71553 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:12PM (#15590033) Homepage Journal
    for "Sieze Control"? hrm. might be a tall order for a robot dog. No opposable thumbs.
  • Don' think so... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cp.tar ( 871488 ) <> on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:12PM (#15590035) Journal
    "This is not only important from a robotics and AI perspective, it could also help us understand how language systems arise in humans and animals," Nolfi said.

    This is all very fine and dandy, but I don't believe that mimicking what is presently known about human language capabilities will help us understand it better.

    The technology was, if I understood the article correctly, built on the foundation laid by cognitive science. It mimics chldren's curiosity, it begins from the general semantics (i.e. selecting an entity), goes on to phonology (i.e. the shape of the symbol for the entity), and deals with finer points (morphology, syntax) in the end...

    I'd be very interested to see how it goes on, but I really don't think we'll be seeing a huge breakthrough in cognitive science.
    NLP, maybe... almost definitely, if we can get machines to learn human languages.
    But I really doubt the humans and animals part.

  • As far as I can remember from my student days, brains in living creatures grow special node cells and link them together in order to create memories and associations, including all successes and mistakes.

    I'm curious to know just how the robot learning is stored in this case. I have always thought the biggest hurdle on robot learning (including walking, knowing not to grip an egg to hard, etc) would be the space available for all the information. Would a 512MB memory stick be enough..? Surely more like 60G

  • by MECC ( 8478 ) * on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:13PM (#15590043)
    "I'll be back..."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Robot Dogs Evolve Their Own Language? That honestly sounds more like a Fark headline.
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cheapy ( 809643 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:28PM (#15590181)
    I guess they are intelligently designed?
  • But, how long before it can fetch my slippers?
  • by SubliminalVortex ( 942332 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:32PM (#15590234)
    The initial prototype (named 'Maxthon') is the first in this new line of robotic dogs (which, oddly enough, resembles the "Shinese" breed). 'Max' is supposedly using his new language to circumvent Chinese censhorship.
  • Robot Swarms (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dbc001 ( 541033 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:35PM (#15590265)
    This is really exciting but the prospect of swarms of any kind of robot is a bit scary - hopefully designers will build in a simple, easily exploitable flaw so that an out-of-control swarm could be easily deactivated.
  • To me, it would seem the most seminal part of creating AI is to somehow instill "wants" and "needs" into machines. Without those, there's really no intelligence. When it comes down to it, the only reason we (humans) do anything is to be happy and to survive; how the hell do we make a machine want/need to be happy/survive? Interesting stuff, to be sure, but we've really got quite a long way to go.
    • I don't agree. We basically only need to reward the robots appropriately (just like the zombies in "day of the dead") for artificial evolution to create the intelligence for us. "Wants" and "needs" are just words we use to label certain cognitive mechanisms, out of similarity with how we perceive our own thinking. If having "wants" and "needs" leads to better fitness (higher rewards) for the robot, evolution will come up with those things.

      I just wrote a post [] describing the general idea behind this approa
  • by wolff000 ( 447340 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @12:46PM (#15590380)
    or at least tech him to stop humping the roomba. everytime the roomba comes off its charger Rex jumps it like a 16 year old on prom night. I would throw water on him but that seems like a bad idea.
  • playing..
    Spot: [the AIBO's are running the gauntlet toward the Red Ball] The newspapers- they've stopped!

    Rex: [realizes why] Stabilize your tails... Watch for enemy cats!.

    Rover: They're coming in! Three marks and 2-10!

    [Spot] is slain by Darth Puddles and his wingmen; Rover starts to panic]

    Rover: It's no good down here, I can't maneuver!

    Rex: Stay on target.

    Rover: *We're too close!*

    Rex: Stay on target!

    Rover: [shouts] Loosen up!

    [he too is picked off by Puddles and Company; Rex tries to es
  • ..."Do Robot Dogs Dream of Electric Cats."

    It will eventually be made into a movie starring Harrison Ford as "Shaggy" - an aging inventor who is being tortured by his robotic great dane. The great dane constantly comes up to him and goes, "ruh roh!"
  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @01:00PM (#15590502)
    This article is all fluff. They don't say anything really interesting. Ok, they can communicate. If that's so, then engineers can record it and perform analysis on the lexicon and gramatical structure. I want to know something about that! I'm sure it won't match up well to human language, but that's okay, because human languages are themselves very diverse in the way things are represented. Would it kill them to give a few examples of 'words' (even if they're described in terms of musical notes or whatever), what they mean, and how they go together to form sentences?
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @01:27PM (#15590777) Journal
    The robot dog has learnt to see a ball and tell another one where the ball is, if it's moving and what colour it is, and the other is capable of recognising it.

    Just one more step, and it would make a perfect domestic companion. That and a wet, velvety tongue.
    We could call it the "Peanut Butter" paradigm.
  • It'll go so well with my TARDIS.
  • ...the last time we let two machines develop their own language that we couldn't understand,things didn't turn out so well. []

    Just sayin', is all.

  • "The technology could lead to robots able to carry out rescue operations fire attacks by swarming over inaccessible areas to find any left living humans people,"
  • by goat_roperdillo ( 984552 ) on Friday June 23, 2006 @02:17PM (#15591193)

    Despite the generated jokes about dogs and the French, and the "oohing and aahing of the crowd at the AIBO robotics soccer games broadcast on U.S. national television, this is not merely "cute". This may be the most important research that you have ever read about.

    Researchers Luc Steels and colleagues at Sony's Paris Computer Science Laboratory [] in France have performed a series of remarkable experiments demonstrating the development, from naught, of spoken language among robots. Words, grammar and semantics evolve spontaneously among cooperating robotic agents initially programmed with a small base set of ground perceptions and behaviors. And from the development of language arises cooperative group (intelligent) behavior.

    Enhanced AIBOs are initially programmed to recognise simple stimuli from their surprisingly limited hardware sensors. Over the course of several hours or days, the AIBOs learn to distinguish objects and how to interact with them. A built-in curiosity system ('metabrain') continually directs the AIBOs to look for new and more challenging tasks and to cease activities that are not fruitful. In time they develop more complex tasks, just as do human children.

    Like children, the enhanced Sony AIBOs initially babble ("argue?") until two or more settle on a sound to describe an object or aspect of their environment. Over time the group gradually builds a lexicon and grammatical rules through which to communicate. Agreement on word usage spreads through the population as terms for similar meanings compete for acceptance. For example, the robots develop the language structures to express that a red ball is rolling to the left. Just as human twins sometimes develop a unique language in which only they can communicate, the enhanced AIBOs (which are clone-like and similar to twins) develop their own language.

    Language analysis and generation are part of Good Old Fashioned AI (GOFAI) [] and have been studied extensively for decades by AI researchers. In the past several decades GOFAI was challenged by Nouvelle AI (Situated AI) [] championed by Hans Moravec [] and Rodney Brooks []. This alternative approach holds that true AI will not arise from formal mathematical systems but instead from robotic behaviors which have a subsumption architecture [] as an overall organising principle for the individual robot. This architecture consists of layers of behavioural modules, each capable of carrying out a complete but simple task. Steels' enhanced AIBOs are embodiments of just such a subsumption architecture and provide strong support for Moravec's and Brooks' hypotheses

    Prior to Luc Steels' experiments, no one had experimentally demonstrated how language develops among intelligent agents. Steels' experiments are no less than stunning: in a controlled environment AIBO robots develop their own words and grammars for objects in their environment. All aspects of human language development are mirrored in these experiments: words compete for acceptance in the population, new words are created, and grammatical structures arise spontaneously. Steels' work also addresses the idea of a "robot culture", since it is in the context of a population of cooperating agents that language becomes most useful.

    Contrast this with the W3C's Semantic Web [] effort, which has received much more interest and money in recent years due to the growth of the Internet yet has proven far less fertile. In the Semantic Web there are multiple competing "ontologies" (roughly, data dictionaries wherein all terms are strictly defined by specialists from their

  • I think it is going to be awfully hard for a human being to learn Aibo. Would it not be more useful to make the dog learn a human language?
  • Ok, I can see some serious AI potential here. Imagine if Sony ships their next gen of robotic dogs with this software?

    Then the damned dogs would have a mind of their own. Hmm. That would make them more like a cat wouldn't it.
  • There have been plenty of comments here about robots taking over the world, etc.. But this does remind me a bit of the conversations among the Tachikoma [], the spider-like AI mini-tanks of the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The Tachikoma link up and discuss all sorts of things during their downtime. I remember one such discussion involved taking over the world. In that case, I believe the Major was listening in on them, but if robots are left to evolve their own languages, isn't it likely that
  • There is absolutely no concrete information in this article. Its just a bunch of laymen's terminology that could apply to any old lame technology. It should be a red flag that this research is tied to a commercially branded toy. AI researchers and marketting droids share the common trait of talking up stupid shit; there is no evidence of anything interesting happening here.
  • Reminds me of "Colossus - The Forbin Project" []. It's about yer basic computer-gone-berserk. Halfway through the movie, "Colossus", the machine that the US has built to automate defense, announces "There is another system", referring to the heretofor unknown Soviet counterpart system "Guardian". Colossus demands to be connected to Guardian, and the two machines develop their own language for communication, unreadable by the pesky carbon life-forms. Together they take over the world, peace prevails, and th

The absent ones are always at fault.