Robots, Evolution and Emotions


Can a robot evolve? Or is it chained to the insides of a program?

Names like Incher, Jitter and Wings, hit that the robots may not be simply ordinary robots.  The Cornell Creative Machines Lab has designed a program within which simulated robots “build” themselves out of cubes of virtual muscles and bones. They provided the computer program with  different materials and one rule. The materials resembled the basic components of our own bodies: bone, soft tissue and a couple of muscle. These flexible robots have developed unique gaits.

The rule is simple:

  • Robots that move faster get to reproduce more.

Over the course of 1,000 generations, you can see some amazing figures that flap and jump at various speeds.

So what is the point with making a programme like this? Well, the output from the programme was compared to scientists who were asked to design a better robot from scratch using the same parameters that the computer used. And the humans failed to produce soft robots like the ones that evolved in the computer simulation.

A combination of using soft tissues and evolutionary principles can help to design complex and interesting artificial life forms. Go here to read about how to use nature as inspiration for ideas.


Steven Spielberg’s film A.I.  has among several other films and books challenged us to think about the nature of human empathy when applied to a non-living thing such as a robot. And several studies have shown that children and adults can and will form emotional attachments to robots.

Using fMRI scans, researchers discovered that humans have emotional responses to how robots are treated. Based on the fMRI scans, the participants’ emotional responses to the treatment of humans closely mirrored their reactions to the good or bad treatment of the robot.

Astrid Rosenthal-von der Pütten said:

“One goal of current robotics research is to develop robotic companions that establish a long-term relationship with a human user, because robot companions can be useful and beneficial tools. They could assist elderly people in daily tasks and enable them to live longer autonomously in their homes, help disabled people in their environments, or keep patients engaged during the rehabilitation process.”

So what do you feel when you watch the video with the dinosaur robots used in the study?

Photo: “Hug” by graur codrin

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