I know that this is well out of date by now, but it has re-appeared on my list of things to discuss with my first year undergraduate students. For an upcoming examination revision session, I will be explicating the relevance of AI to anthropology and computing. The Guardian recently reported that the Engineering Department at Essex University are building 60 mini-robots to act as surrogate humans with the intention of discovering "the processes and mechanisms of the emergence of culture and cultural behaviour" [source]. Will this research tell us anything that conventional evolutionary anthropology can't or hasn't? Will it have any correlation with human society?
"Winfield is quick to throw in a caveat. 'The behaviours that emerge and evolve will not be human but decidedly robotic. We do not expect these artificial memes to have any meaning in a human cultural context - they will only be meaningful within the closed context of this artificial society. One of our key challenges in this research will be to identify and interpret these patterns of behaviour as evidence for an emerging robot culture and to see whether this new understanding may shed some light on how culture emerges and whether this has any implications for human, animal or artificial societies. In a sense we will be using robots like a microscope to study the evolution of culture.'"
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