Abstract: Typically, AI researchers and roboticists try to realize intelligent behavior in machines by tuning parameters of a predefined structure (body plan and/or neural network architecture) using evolutionary or learning algorithms. Another but not unrelated longstanding property of these systems is their brittleness to slight aberrations, as highlighted by the growing deep learning literature on adversarial examples. Here we show robustness can be achieved by evolving the geometry of soft robots, their control systems, and how their material properties develop in response to one particular interoceptive stimulus (engineering stress) during their lifetimes. By doing so we realized robots that were equally fit but more robust to extreme material defects (such as might occur during fabrication or by damage thereafter) than robots that did not develop during their lifetimes, or developed in response to a different interoceptive stimulus (pressure). This suggests that the interplay between changes in the containing systems of agents (body plan and/or neural architecture) at different temporal scales (evolutionary and developmental) along different modalities (geometry, material properties, synaptic weights) and in response to different signals (interoceptive and external perception) all dictate those agents' abilities to evolve or learn capable and robust strategies.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).