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The Intimate Machine

Alpha Wolf  
Photo of  Alan and Bruce Blumberg
  Bruce Blumberg introduces Alan to the latest of his computerized canines.

Bruce Blumberg and computer canines have a long history at MIT's Media Lab, and on FRONTIERS. Blumberg has been striving to make computers more sociable, and he has often chosen man's best friend to help him accomplish his goal. Years ago, Blumberg introduced Alan Alda to Silas, a virtual dog that could respond to Alan's hand and voice signals, and even fetch a virtual ball. Last year, Alan met Duncan, a cyber sheepdog that could be trained to respond to new commands using a reward system developed by Blumberg. Alan, in fact, was the first person outside of the Media Lab to teach Duncan a brand new trick.

Image of Wolves
Blumberg's model of the social behavior of dogs and wolves may help scientists build trainable computers.  

Today, Blumberg has switched his focus to wolves and the ways in which social behavior can be modeled in computers. To begin, Blumberg gives Alan his toughest Media Lab assignment yet - wolf parenthood. By using his voice - complete with howls, growls, and whimpers - Alan tries to shape the actions and reactions of a virtual wolf pup. Wolves live within a highly organized society, so Blumberg and his colleague Bill Tomlinson studied wolves in nature to learn all they could - which wolves are subordinate to whom, and how pups find their place in the strict hierarchy - then incorporated this knowledge into their program. As with everything he does at the Media Lab, Blumberg hopes this latest endeavor will help "to inform our understanding of the natural world."

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
Model Behavior

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