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12 Aug, 2015 14:48

Watch out, humans! Reproducing robots are evolving & improving with each generation

Watch out, humans! Reproducing robots are evolving & improving with each generation

As we humans struggle to accept that artificial intelligence (AI) is rendering us obsolete, the robots have raised the stakes once again. They're now reproducing – and they're honing their skills in a way that is simply impossible for the rest of us.

While the idea of breeding robots is enough to send your mind on a journey that quite possibly includes world domination, the scariest part is that these machines don't need any human assistance in order to reproduce.

But if you're imagining a romantic dinner followed by some time between the sheets, you're mistaken. The robots aren't able to make babies the old-fashioned way...at least not yet.

Instead, a 'mother' robot builds her own 'children' by constructing them in different configurations. But it's not exactly motherly intuition prompting the mother to reproduce – she's been programmed (by humans) to do so.

The mother, a simple-looking metal structure that moves swiftly and bends up and down as needed, works like a hand, constructing her children in different configurations. Those children consist of one to five plastic cubes with a motor inside.

In each of five experiments conducted by researchers in Cambridge and Zurich, the mother built and tested 10 generations of children. But unlike human mothers, she was able to change the children she didn't approve of.

She used the information gathered from each generation to guide the production of the next one. This means the robots only got better and better.

The desirable traits were passed down through generations, in what can be described a robotic form of natural selection.

“Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on,” said Dr. Fumiya Iida of Cambridge University, who led the research with colleagues at ETH University in Zurich, as quoted by Mail Online.

“That's essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species,” he added.

To determine which characteristics were worthy of the mother robot's love, she tested her children on their skills, measuring the distance each one could travel from its starting position in a given amount of time.

The most successful robots in each generation were left unchanged in the next generation, in order to preserve their abilities. But the ones that disappointed their mother were introduced to mutation and crossover, in an effort to make them more like their favored siblings.

The evolution process proved successful for the mother robot, with children in the last generation moving at an average speed that was more than twice as fast as the quickest kids in the first generation. This was because the mother was able to invent new shapes and patterns for her kids, including some designs that could not have been built by humans.

If you're keen to read more about robotic reproduction, you can check out the research in the journal Plos One. But perhaps you may want to sit back and enjoy the world around you instead – before it's run by brainiac robots that are capable of a lot more than we mortal humans are.