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tag: swarm

Lovelace on creativity: An addendum

Just been reading through parts of the PhD thesis of Rob Saunders, one of the previous members of the stem cell modelling research group, on "Curious Design Agents and Artificial Creativity". Lots of interesting ideas, which follow on nicely from a talk I recently saw by Alex McLean on mapping creative exploration to geometric spaces (cf Peter Gärdenfors).

The introduction aptly reins back something that I overstated in my recent piece on Jane Prophet: Ada Lovelace's views on computational creativity. She in fact stated that:

“The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do [only] whatever we know how to order it to perform” (emphasis added by Boden, 1990)

As Rob comments, therefore, the credit for the creative products of the machine should remain with its engineer, rather than construing the machine itself as having creativity. His paper goes on to investigate such notions of synthetic creativity. It also brings to the fore Turing's ideas about machines exhibiting "surprising" behaviour courtesy, in the paper that introduces the Turing test, anticipating Cariani's emergence-relative-to-a-model.

Interesting, and relevant after a morning spent encountering some highly surprising behaviour from some swarms driven by Perlin noise (below).

Incidentally, Leafcutter John -- who we are off to see play tonight as part of Polar Bear -- has also been doing some brilliant things with Processing and particle systems. On the "unexpected" tip, check out his awesome moth wings...

Swarm: Nature's Incredible Invasions


It's a modest new year's resolution of mine to make more of the bountiful resource that is BBC's iPlayer. Thanks to a tip-off from my folks, this was kicked off with last night's Swarm: Nature's Incredible Invasions: When Worlds Collide (baffling double-colon reproduced verbatim; watchable till 19 Jan 2009). Narrated by David Tennant, this nature documentary "reveals the awe-inspiring world of animal swarms", using a wide range of footage including aerial footage from within insect and bird flocks to illustrate its point.

Given that the subject matter is of such interest to me, it was a disappointing way to begin my iPlayer experience: in both tone and focus, it bore more resemblance to a US car-chase shock-doc than to the informative Attenborough fare that is more the norm for the BBC. Tossing aside any biological insights, it was merely a catalogue of the devastation that swarms can wreak on man and nature, albeit with some highly impressive film and stats to back it up -- one particularly striking scene showed amateur video of an Australian farmer lifting up a piece of corrugated iron to reveal a heaving throng of thousands of mice, like woodlice under a particularly large rock. Why not discuss the complex communications the determine the movements of killer bees, rather than just whacking on some gory footage of bee stings? Why not mention, even in passing, the stunning and unlikely evolutionary advantage given by the 17-year cycle of periodic cicada breeding? Here's hoping that next week's followup provides more in the way of factual background.

One feature that I did enjoy -- and another that it shared with the aforementioned US cop shows -- was its extensive use of amateur video, including mobile phone and camcorder footage of suburban infestations, accompanied by token doltish mumblings ("See that tree right there? It has.. lots and lots of cicadas on it."). It also featured the great sight of an endless stream of cars ploughing over a highway strewn with migrating land crabs. Yet, to really hammer home the point that this is AMATEUR FOOTAGE, the production company saw fit to superimpose illusory phone facias onto the wobbly video. Why?!

Fake phone

The Evolution of Invasiveness in Garden Ants


Fortify your gardens: BBC News reports (based upon this paper) that a novel ultra-invasive ant species, Lasius neglectus, is soon to strike the cold temperate climes of Northern Europe. This new strain is creating supercolonies that are orders of magnitude greater than existing colonies, based on the seemingly counter-evolutionary development of a flightless queen, alongside workers that are willing to mate within their colony rather than first taking flight to pastures new. Moreover, it's a relatively unaggressive form, constituted by "a social system that is characterized by mating without dispersal and large networks of cooperating nests rather than smaller mutually hostile colonies".

As a consequence, it's exhibiting self-organization on a staggering (and somewhat frightening) scale, resulting in single vast populations that inexorably expand outwards. Courtesy of human transport to locations that lack natural parasites (cite, PDF), Lasius neglectus has begun to blanket central Europe over the course of just 25 years.

The authors conclude that:

"Our results show that invasive L. neglectus populations are a potential problem of global dimensions, and a particular threat for man-made ecosystems in the cold-temperate climate zones that have so far suffered very little from invasive ants."

I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.

Starlings over Brighton's West Pier

Work is coming to a climax on the Fragmented Orchestra, with more sound transmission sites being installed around the UK on a daily basis. There are 24 sites in total, spread as far afield as Inverness, Belfast and Cornwall, so it's no small feat to co-ordinate and maintain; it's also vital that each site provides a reliable 24/7 audio stream to the central neuro-granulation server at the FACT gallery for the duration of the installation, a requirement which has thrown up a number of unexpected obstacles. One illuminating example is the site at the Kielder Observatory, Cumbria, which is not connected to the Internet and so is hooked up via an RF transceiver to the nearby village, at which point the radio transmission is encoded in real-time and streamed via the net to the neural server. This then relays the mixed-down stream to the web for (eventually) web clients to listen in to. Heavens.

Still, the infrastructure is now mostly in place. I accompanied Nick on Thursday's installation at Brighton's West Pier, which remains an icon of the city despite being rendered a skeletal hulk by a fire in early 2003. The soundbox itself is installed in the beach hut at the end of the pier, picking up an evocative mix of seagulls, waves and passers-by - and relaying the neuro-granulated stream through the resonant surface of its window.

As we were finishing laying the cables for the site, we were fortunate enough to witness what is apparently another iconic Brighton sight: the nesting of a staggeringly vast flock of starlings, who gather together each dusk to swoop around the pier before landing on it to rest. Never before have I seen flocking on such a remarkable scale.

Beach hut, Brighton West PierThrough the windowBroken glassFacing westwardsFlocking starlingsFlock divides in twoWest PierFlocking starlings #2

AtomSwarm source now available

K http://www.erase.net/projects/atomswarm/

Screenshot After months of good intentions being ousted by other priorities, I'm pleased to have finally found the time to finish cleaning up and documenting the core classes of AtomSwarm, a Processing-based framework for musical improvisation based on swarm behaviours. It's perhaps not the cleanest set of source in the world, but provides a useful basis for other swarm work and contains information on the genetic and metabolic constructs that co-determine the swarm's behaviours.