FAQ  Hot Research Topics - Personal Interests

MSc or 3rd year U/G Projects
Here a strongly recommended strategy is to take some published piece of work, a paper from a journal or conference in an area that interests you, and recreate that same work in your own words and your own programming code. This always has the potential to be interesting, challenging, and lead to original  extensions and variations of the work.

I can supervise such projects in any areas of Artificial Life, including Evolutionary Robotics, Genetic Algorithms, Cellular Automata, Game Theoretic modelling, GAs + ANNs for data-mining, analysis of CTRNNs. I will be especially interested in projects close to my own Hot Topics.

My Hot Topics -- Doctoral Research areas of interest
I am personally interested in brand new research areas where there are only around 10 people in the world currently interested, yet it looks like having a big future impact. If there is only 1 person interested, you are a lone madman; if there are 100+, it is already a bandwagon and I am less interested. These are areas that I promote in my Artificial Life course, I try and focus my own research on, and that I want to have doctoral students working in. I will list them roughly in personal historical order.

Evolutionary Robotics
ER had only a handful of people when I started in the area in the late 1980s (I claim to be the first person employed as an Evolutionary Roboticist), but has now become mainstream and a bandwagon. So I am only interested now in radical new angles on ER. Eg ER approaches to studying developmental issues (cf work by Rachel Wood). Or ER approaches to Passive Dynamics Plus (see below, and work by Eric Vaughan).

Artificial Evolution
My doctoral thesis was on this. For current interests see Neutral Networks, Microbial GA, and the applications listed here. SAGA (Species Adaptation Genetic Algorithms) will be covered on another FAQ; Neutral Networks are the hot topic derived from this. cf also the Microbial Genetic Algorithm.

Neutral Networks
A significant part of my thesis was on this area -- eg SAGA focussed on the importance of neutral ridges for evolution of a genetically converged population (but the term "Neutral Networks" only came later). Lionel Barnett in his doctoral work with me made very important advances. Adrian Thompson demonstrated the existence of these in Hardware evolution, and we collaborated on a paper.  There is still  an enormous amount of important research to be done, and very few people in the area. We are currently putting together a grant proposal for a research effort here.

Minimal Cognition
The more philosophical /cognitive science end of ER involves studies in minimal cognition; Braitenberg vehicles fall into this paradigm, and we have rather similar motivations here to those of Randy Beer (Case Western, now moving to Indiana). What is the simplest model of an artificial agent that can learn, that can discriminate between two examples, or over a continuum of examples? (cf work by Eduardo Izquierdo-Torres, previous work by Elio Tuci with me). Lots of room for more cutting-edge research. One project I am interested in is getting a minimal cognition model of an agent that uses representations (...'external' representations, of course, since 'internal representations' are just the product of confused people). CTRNNs (as with Beer) are a common tool used here. Another project is promoting the understanding (at a fundamental, philosophical level) of perception through minimal cognition models.

Philosophical Issues
I call some of what we do "Philosophy of Mind with a screwdriver". Interests in a Dynamical Systems understanding of Cognition, in Autopoesis.

Passive Dynamics Plus
Passive Dynamic Walking allows bipedal (potentially) multipedal) walking down a gradient with no motors, no control system, a graceful gait and near-maximum efficiency. Humanoid bipedal walking should start here, adding control and power. Eric Vaughan has made major advances in this here, and we are shortly applying for a grant for a major research effort in this area.

There is lots of potential hot research to do so as to understand homeostasis further. Ezequiel di Paolo is also much interested in this. One route through minimal cognition experiments, another through Daisyworld theory.

A potential mechanism for explaining Gaia theory, I see this as  an important model for homeostasis in any organism. I finally understood this properly through producing a much simpler model (Alife 9 paper)  analysing it in terms of Rein Control. Scope for much more work here, including the relationship with the MEP (Maximum Entropy Production) Principle, very recently put on a firmer footing by Roderick Dewar. James Dyke is working with me in this area.

Complexity and Stability of Ecosystems
The assumptions built into Robert May's models must be wrong, or inadequate, or missing out further constraints. I have various proposals in this area.

Autonomous Glider
As a practical robotics project, using minimal perception, it seems feasible to put a minimal control system into a model glider for 3-D Braitenberg-like behaviour; for ridge soaring, tracking up and down the windward side of a ridge of hills gaining lift. I have the basics worked out, we have a powered glider (radio control plus power for take-off, then hand over to autonomous control), we need the time and effort put into this. As well as a good technical challenge, this has the tremendous appeal of a form of artificial life that could genuinely extract  the energy it requires to maintain itself from the environment -- from the wind.

Adaptive Text Entry
Mobile phones, ipods, PDAs, need a better method of one-handed text entry. Dasher (David Mackay) is one amongst many proposals that incorporates prediction of likely sequences, adapting to the user, but they all have usability problems. I have some proposals in this area, and have supervised an MSc project by Matt Evans. Lots of scope for more work, potential enormous commercial demand.

[More ....]
I really want to hear other peoples' original proposals in similar areas, in the hope that I will find them interesting or important.

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