An interactive version of Those Who, a project I collaborated on with the late Sascha Pohflepp and Alessia Nigretti, is now online at the Garage Museum’s digital platform: https://garage.digital/en/those-who-2019.
Those Who is a virtual world simulation, consisting of artificial life forms that evolve over time, a set of self-propelled resource particles, and the environment within which both are embedded. Agents are trained to collect resources by a neural network using reinforcement learning, and their performance in doing so varies depending on their genotype. The simulation is implemented in Unity, using the ML-Agents toolkit to train the agents first to navigate the environment with intelligence, while a genetic algorithm works in real time to evolve new forms and behaviors as the simulation progresses. The quantities and values of resources in the virtual world can be linked to real-world inputs, such as the market for rare-earth minerals. Focusing on the conceptual relationship between reinforcement learning and natural selection, the project poses fundamental questions about the similarities between processes of learning and evolution, as discussed by Leslie Valiant in the book Probably Approximately Correct. The underlying framework is intended as a playground or tool for the free exploration of behavior and the emergence of intelligence, of whatever kind.
I collaborated with Casey Rehm and Yasushi Ishida on the project Strange Flatmates: New Residents for the Primitive Hut for the Tallinn Architecture Biennale. Our proposal, involving AI-controlled robotic wood fabrication, moss, and spiders, made the shortlist of finalists for the 2018 competition.
In collaboration with Nicole Koltick, I developed a speculative proposal for the North Atlantic Server Farm (NASF), a free-floating array of autonomously swimming, wave-powered and seawater-cooled server units, linked together at hubs with undersea cable connections, and constantly growing as new units would be deployed and swim until finding a point to attach. As the network scales, the reflectivity of its white surfaces could begin to offset the reduced albedo of Earth from the melting of polar ice.
The Glass Cloud was a project from my Master’s research at Columbia, done with Francois Roche and Marc Fornes. Recycled glass is melted down and formed into shapes inspired by the spicules that make up the skeletons of glass sponges, then a robotic crane system places the spicules according to aggregative growth rules into a constantly-growing structure.
Other work from my Master’s research, conducted with Roland Snooks, included building simulation models of swarming and flocking systems, and 3D models to generate structures based on collective behavior in coral growth.