Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kowloon Walled City - Working Anarchy?

What happens if a large dense settlement is left ungoverned for a long time? This would be the ultimate experiment of a self-organizing social system.

What sounds like an introduction to a Science Fiction story has actually happened in New Kowloon, Hong Kong. After World War II, the Walled City, originally a Chinese military fort became a Chinese enclave within British Hongkong with practically no government enforcement from the Chinese or the British. The Kowloon Walled City became a hotspot of human interaction with about 33000 residents (some estimations even going up to 50000) living at an area of only 2.6 hectars (approximately the size of a football stadium).

The area was made up of 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, built without an architect’s planning. The result was a massive forest of buildings harboring a maze of narrow dark passageways with constant dripping from piping above. Many apartments were windowless. Having no other space, the rooftops only place to breathe fresh air and escape the claustrophobia of the city - even a place for children to play.
http://www.greggirard.com/content/gallery/girard_kowloon010.jpgThe city was anarchic in its architecture and citizens. Without govermental health and sanitation inspectors, the city attracted sloppy food processors, unlicensed doctors and dentists as well as criminals.

Walled City became a haven for crime and drugs, despite its small area hosting countless brothels, gambling parlors, and opium dens.
Until 1974 the city was run by the Chinese Triads until 1974 with police only venturing in large groups into the city. From 1973-74 on, subsequent police raids helped in cutting back the Triads' power and reducing the crime rate. In 1983, crime was declared to be under control.

Most residents were not involved in any crime and lived peacefully within the Walled City, forming a tightly knit community to help each other and improve daily life there. While sanitary conditions and fire prevention did never achieve an acceptable standard, many other interactions worked surprisingly well in a self-organizing way. Numerous small factories and businesses thrived inside the Walled City.
Despite a reduction in the reported crime rate, both the British and the Chinese governments found the City to be increasingly intolerable. The Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish the Walled City in 1987. Despite the possibility of a financial compensation to citizens and businesses, this was not to the delight of some of the citizens. After a long protracted eviction process, demolition began in March 1993 and was completed in April 1994. Today, the area is occupied by the Kowloon Walled City Park.

Thumbnails are based on photos from the Canadian photographer Greg Girard who, in collaboration with book author Ian Lambot, spent five years in Kowloon Walled City to get to know the residents and to learn how it was (self-)organized. Arial view of Kowloon City by Stevage under GFDL 1.2.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Next Big Thing in Artificial Evolution

As announced in a previous blogpost, Prof. A. E. Eiben gave a very interesting talk on the next big in thing in artificial evolution during his visit at the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt. Eiben presented a vision about having animate artefacts that are able to evolve and self-reproduce in physical spaces. To make this happen, he gives a notion of the integration of "hard" vs. "soft" evolutionary computation, the former meaning evolutionary optimiziation and design while the latter refering to artificial life, swarm robotics, and artificial societies.

Gusz Eiben's talk was attracting many people and lead to a vivid discussion afterwards about technology, possibilities, societal implications and parallels to existing sci-fi stories from Philip K. Dick or movies such as Terminator. So I think it is appropriate to say this talk was truly presenting science beyond fiction.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How the body affects the mind - On the effects of robot configuration on evolved behavior

The design of robotic controllers through evolutionary methods requires making a large number of choices about the experimental setup, which are often left to the expertise or naïveté of the experimenter. Although much attention is normally given to the fitness function or the genotype-to-phenotype mapping determining the robot controller, the robot configuration is often selected with little care. Yet, an ill-defined configuration - in terms of the selected subset of the sensory-motor system, or in the pre-processing of the raw sensor data - may be decisive in determining the failure of the evolutionary process.

Different emerged patterns 
simulated with ARGoS
In our paper "On the effects of the robot configuration on evolving coordinated motion behaviors" we studied the effect of different robot configurations on the ability to evolve efficient behaviors for a swarm robotics system. In this domain, the choice of a good configuration is fundamental as even small details can lead to large differences in the group behavior. To demonstrate the importance of the robot configuration, we test different alternatives and measure the group performance on a bi-objective scale.

The results show that different configurations not only have a strong effect on performance, but they also correspond to behaviors with radically different features concerning the organization of the group.

The following video illustrates three basic behaviors that emerged: wavefront, train and flocking:

For more information, see:

I. Fehérvári, V. Trianni, and W. Elmenreich. On the effects of the robot configuration on evolving coordinated motion behaviors. In Proceedings of the IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation. IEEE, June 2013.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Prof. A. E. Eiben at Lakeside Labs: The Next Big Thing in Artificial Evolution

Professor Àgoston E. Eiben will give an interesting talk at the Lakeside Labs / Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt on April 10th 2014, 15:00 CET, Room L4.1.114  

This talk presents a vision about the upcoming breakthrough in artificial evolution: animate artefacts that (self-)reproduce in physical spaces. In other words, we witness the “Evolution of Things”, rather than just the evolution of digital objects, leading to a new field of Embodied Artificial Evolution. After presenting this vision some of the technical challenges are elaborated and related to the main algorithmic/technical requirements to the current know-how in evolutionary computing. Finally, Prof. Eiben will speculate about possible applications, their societal impacts, and argue that these developments will radically change our lives.

For those who cannot attend or want to warm up on the topic, we recommend Eiben's TED talk "Evolution at Work":

A.E. Eiben is a professor of Computational Intelligence on the VU University Amsterdam and Visiting Professor in the Department of Electronics of the University of York, UK. He is one of the European early birds of Evolutionary Computing; his first EC paper dates back to 1989 and he co-authored the first comprehensive book on the subject. He has been organizing committee member of practically all major international evolutionary computing conferences and editorial board member of related international journals. He have also coordinated or participated in several EU research projects. Prominent themes in his work include multi-parent recombination methods, evolutionary constraint handling, evolutionary art, artificial life, and evolutionary robotics. Furthermore, he is concerned with methodological issues, especially the design and calibration of evolutionary algorithms (parameter tuning off-line as well as parameter control on-line). Lately he became interested in artificial evolutionary systems that are physically embodied in real time and real space. This goes far beyond conventional evolutionary computing in digital spaces and implies great new opportunities and challenges – see his TEDx talk and a journal paper on the vision, and the The Triangle of Life framework for a possible implementation in robotic systems that can self-reproduce. On the long term, a broad range of possible “incarnations” can emerge and form a radically new way of engineering. Furthermore, they can serve as an apparatus to investigate deep scientific questions about evolution in a new substrate, different from carbon-based life as we know it.