day #5

“Hi, I missed you yesterday,” he said as I sat down. “Sorry, I spent the whole day at the library. And then I had a peculiar dream last night.” “Robots?” “Naturally. But that wasn’t what was strange about it. It started with me walking through the city. Everybody except for me was asleep. And I started picking up bits and pieces of other people’s dreams. But I couldn’t make any sense of them.” “Neat. Some cultures had the concept of a ‘dream hunter’. In the mythology of the Khazars, a dream hunter was someone who would travel within others’ dreams in search of a quarry. Maybe that’s what you were doing.” “But I wasn’t inside anybody else’s dream. I just caught glimpses of them. Anyways, what did they hunt? More importantly, what would you suggest I was hunting?” “It would be different for each dream hunter. As for you..? I don’t know. I would assume it to be your robot. You saw it, yes, but did you catch it?” “No. I awoke before... Wait. I wasn’t trying to /catch/ it; I was... I was asking it if it dreamed.” “And wouldn’t an answer to that be akin to ‘catching’ it? Apprehending, as it were?” I thought about it for a bit, and decided that for my purposes, it was. “I suppose it would,” I said. “But let’s move on. How are things going for you? I’ll be honest, I’m a little concerned about where your research might be taking you. I know you want to understand what your friends have gotten into, but don’t you have that pretty much figured out? What’s your goal?” “Hmm. You know, to tell the truth I don’t know what my goal is. I started just because I was worried about them. And I wanted to know what happened. I don’t know if I thought I could ‘save’ them, or if some part of me wanted to join them. Be part of the group again, y’know. Now... Now it’s just interesting to chronicle the emergence of a new cult. I guess it is a cult. To follow new developments, and maybe if things get bad at least there will be one person on the outside who knows what’s happening.” “There’s no worry about getting too deeply involved?” “No. There might be if I was trying to get information from the inside, going to their meetings and whatnot. But there /are/ no meetings, and all my research is done from the outside.” “But they’re pretty secretive about what they’re doing, right? What if they find out about your inquiries?” “I’m, as a rule, pretty careful about covering my tracks. Yeah, if they caught on that someone was studying them, I’d probably be one of the first people on their list, but I don’t think it’s so much that they’re trying to hide anything. They just don’t talk about it. And again, nothing they’re doing yet seems particularly dangerous.” “Alright. I don’t want to press too hard. You certainly seem to know what you’re doing.” “No problem. Anyways, how’s the robot coming along?” “It’s alright. I’m trying to closely model it after human biology, at least as close as makes sense. So right now I’m just studying anatomy, because I never really payed much attention to the subject while I was in school.” “Have you looked into any of the things I recommended for you yet?” “Not yet. Still too early to worry about implementation details, but I’m sure they’ll come in handy. Fuzzy logic will probably be useful in a bunch of circumstances, and neural networks have the obvious application. What was the other one, again?” “Genetic algorithms.” “Ah, yes. That one I’m not sure about, yet. I might use it to solve some, as yet unforeseen, tricky problems down the road. But that one I really don’t know enough about it yet to say for sure.” “In theory, you could use it to evolve the entire control program for the robot. But it would take a really long time. I can’t really tell you a whole lot about it because I haven’t used it myself, but it seems very promising.” “How effective is it, do you know?” “From what I’ve read, its effectiveness entirely rests on how well you devise the fitness measure.” “Oh, so it’s all guided evolution? What about unguided?” “I think some people have done experiments with that, and it seems to work to a certain extent. But if you’re trying to use it to solve a particular problem, it’s only natural to include an explicit fitness function.” “I’ll keep it in mind. I mean, it only seems natural that I should use genetic algorithms & evolutionary processes to mimic a design that emerged because of evolution. I just don’t know where or how, yet.” “I know you’re still in the research phase, but do you have any ideas on the overall design yet?” “I’m not really sure. It’s going to be humanoid, but I do know I’m not going to try to create something that will pass as a human, like your canonical android. And since I’m an amateur, I expect it will be somewhat primitive. Behaviorally, at least. Though mechanically this will be pushing my skills far beyond what I’ve done before.” “You should keep in mind people’s emotional response to the thing you create. For example, if you make it smaller, people will be prone to treat it as a child. And if you make it look menacing, people will treat it as a threat.” “Oh, wow. I hadn’t even considered that, yet. I’m building this so I can learn how people work. And now you’re asking me to think about how people are going to respond emotionally to this?” “Heh. It’s not as hard as it seems. Just think about how you would respond to the design. That’s a good enough start.” “When did you learn so much about design all of a sudden?” “Not ‘all of a sudden.’ It’s one of the subjects I study. More industrial and interface design than graphic.” “Never would have guessed. No offense.” “None at all. It’s definitely not my strong point. Nor my main interest. But it’s an interesting subject.” “Well, it’s getting late. I need to get home & make dinner. And I foresee another long day tomorrow at the library. I’ll see you around.” “Yeah, I should probably get going soon, too. See ya.” And so the next day, after work, it was back to the library to research the heart of my robot, the nervous system. This system (in vertebrates, including humans) was itself subdivided into several branching subsystems. The two main systems are the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord. And it also can be broken down into constituent parts. I didn’t know how many parts I would need to replicate, but I had a feeling that since the behavior of the brain was by no means understood even today, I might be better off ignoring much of it and instead focusing on replicating behavior itself, rather than the anatomy. Nevertheless, I chose a few of the better books on the subject and took detailed notes. The peripheral nervous system can be divided into the somatic and autonomic nervous systems. The somatic nervous system is that which is responsible for coordinating movement via the muscles, and for receiving sensory input. It is in charge of all activities under conscious control. The autonomic nervous system, on the other hand, controls all “reflex” actions. For its part, it is divided into the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous systems. The first is responsible for the body’s responses to danger or stress, including an accelerated heartbeat and the release of adrenaline. Its compliment, the parasympathetic nervous system, controls the subconscious activity one exhibits when relaxed, such as a reduced heartbeat and stimulation of the digestive, reproductive, and urinary systems. The final system functions almost completely independent of the rest of the nervous system. Though it is closely tied to the other two divisions of the autonomic nervous system, in certain vertebrates, when the connection between the CNS and the enteric nervous system is severed, the latter continues to function on its own. Thus, some even consider it a second brain. Anyways, it’s pretty much in charge of every aspect of the digestive process. Which made a good deal of sense. The subsystem that controls the processing of energy from its raw form into a usable form should be pretty much independent of the other systems, so that it would be able to continue functioning if something happened to one of the other systems. So that was it. Sure, there was a whole lot more to figure out, but that covered the basics of at least the internals of a human. I decided I would do the design in more or less the order I researched the systems – that is, start with the structure and work my way “up.” For the skeleton, optimally I could use a lightweight titanium alloy like they use in bicycle frames. But I didn’t know how easy titanium would be to work with. Aluminum was another option, or maybe even a titanium/aluminum alloy. I figured metal would be better than the plastic I was initially considering as an alternative because it would be easier to repair in the event of damage. Structurally, I tried out couple sketches modifying aspects here and there, but I kept going back to a basic copy of a human skeleton. None of my changes felt right. They all threw off the balance of the overall form. I tried various “ages” for the creation, but finally decided on more or less adult. I wasn’t creating a child, I was creating an equal. So I wanted the robot to be viewed as such. Or, at least, that was my hope. Who knew if I could pull it off. The major muscles would be replicated using pistons. I could use shape memory alloy wires for the smaller muscles & for parts that needed finer control (that is, the nickel-titanium alloys that constrict when supplied with electricity or heated). The SMAs posed a potential problem, though – they function by constricting when heated. So I’d almost certainly need a complex and reliable cooling system, or else the muscles would no longer work (they’d be locked in the active position) if the robot ever overheated. This is mainly achieved by the skin, by sweating in mammals to release heat when the water evaporates, but the circulatory system may also play a part. It seemed doable. The main difficulty would be the sheer number involved – the human body has about 650 or so skeletal muscles, and then there’s cardiac muscles and smooth muscles. Of course the muscles needed something to provide themselves with electricity, which is where the circulatory system would come into play. Since my robot wouldn’t need nutrients as such, as far as I could foresee, all the “veins” would need to carry would be electricity, so simple wires would work. I planned for some redundancy, such that a “severed vein” wouldn’t completely cut off energy to everything downstream of the lesion. word count: 1952 / 5808 words much better today. still 4190 words to go, but I'm not going straight to bed. I just wanted to post this before midnight.