non human: the creator + the designed.
“One child works out clever ways to arrange some blocks in rows and stacks; a second child plays at rearranging how it thinks. Everyone can praise the first child's castles and towers, but no one can see what the second child has done, and one may even get the false impression of a lack of industry. But if the second child persists in seeking better ways to learn, this can lead to silent growth in which some better ways to learn may lead to better ways to learn to learn.”
(Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind 1986)
Anecdote from the Little Ones : An Introduction.
In 2010, Dario Floreano and Laurent Keller presented their research titled, Evolution of Adaptive Behaviour in Robots by Means of Darwinian Selection. The study involves an experiment which successfully illustrates altruistic cooperation in a team of miniature robots after 240 generations of Darwinian selection. In the joint evolution process of their artificial brain morphologies, the robots exhibit a cooperative behavior that amused their human observers: multiple robots team up to push the larger token, thereby increasing the fitness level of all group members (by one unit each) as opposed to one robot pushing a small token and singularly gaining one unit for itself.
The robots, once crude bits of metal and bits, were designed and assembled by the humans to perform certain necessary tasks. Upon successive iterations, they “learned” the consequences of their movement patterns and collectively showcased a reaction. The observation gathered from this alludes to an interesting teleological effort behind human robot interaction where there exists “ a level of co-operation...while creating an ontological uncertainty as to their nature and intentionality” (Vidal, 2007). I find that this research is emblematic of the second child mentioned in Minsky’s quote, the one playing at rearranging how the blocks think independent from our subjective intuitions.
The blocks and their implications are presumably simple - they can be arranged in rows and stacked. Similarly, the understanding of the collective benefit in altruism and cooperation is universally affirmed. Hence, Floreano and Keller’s extensive research with evolutionary robot behavior is indicative of our inquisitive drive to constantly understand and learn the mind at work - the ontology of its volitions. By projecting what is internal and bestowing its qualities onto an external object, in this case - robots, we produce a simulation that attempts to decipher the teleology of our innate dispositions. This interpretation becomes more plausible when we revisit the ways in which humans have established relationships with the “non-human” in the past as well as the present, prevalently through anthropomorphism. Within the last decade, researchers in the field of robotics and computer science have revisited anthropomorphism for its profound reassessment where, “it appears to be the most efficient and most spontaneous register through which humans establish - consciously or not - a strong relationship with artifacts or other non-human living beings” (Vidal).
This essay expands upon how HRI is an evolutionary consequence of anthropomorphism that transpired from its spiritual precedents. By approaching the topic of human and robot relationships from a cultural, anthropological, and even philosophical perspective, we inquire deeper into the relationships between subject and object as well as subsistence and existence. I would then propose further in the preceding pages, how the relational paradox within HRI is reshaping the providence of a modern creator who stands on the cusp of immanency and paralysis.