Science Mag produces proof – actual, empirical proof – that nice guys really can finish first and that even killer robots can learn to care for each other:
Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland wondered if he could resolve the debate using a computer simulation. He and roboticists Markus Waibel and Dario Floreano, both from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, started with real-life robots that are just a couple of centimeters high. The robots have two independently operating wheels and a “nervous system” composed of sensors and a camera, which allow them to detect small discs—a stand in for food.
Once the team was comfortable with the virtual evolution environment it had set up, it added a new twist: It allowed the robots to share food disks with each other. If Hamilton’s hypothesis was correct, “successful” virtual robots were likely to be those that were closely related and shared food with each other; that would help to ensure that at least one of them — and some of the genes of both—would make it to the next round. (Two robots with a modest amount of food disks would both be more likely to be cut from the simulation, but if one robot gave all of its food to a second robot, that second robot would likely make the next round.) And indeed, altruism quickly evolved in the simulation, with greater food-sharing in groups where robots were more related, the researchers report online today in PLoS Biology. The more closely related the robots, the quicker they cooperated.