Week 7 – Boids

In Wilson’s readings this week, he introduced artificial intelligence as a form of art. He asked the question, “Can the patterns of biological life be sufficiently understood that researchers could write algorithms to represent these rules and simulate life?” One of the artworks was “Boids” by Craig W. Reynolds in 1987. His work is a prime example of AI intelligence as it requires AI components to include “genetic algorithms with the capability to self modify their codes.” In this simulation, Reynolds is able to reproduce flock mentality through the medium of computer simulated AI. He drew inspiration from the natural sciences of behavior, evolution, and zoology. Reynolds collaborated with  “Logo” who invented the appropriate geometry for the birds, Actor semantics people who invented the appropriate control structure (the brain), and the programming language Lisp. He worked with the Graphics Division of Symbolics, Inc., his employer, who gave him the facilities to work on this project.

“Boids” is a computer simulation that mimics the motions of a bird flock. The birds are represented by a particle system within the program. Each bird is its own individual and reacts according to the environment around it, the intentions of the developer, and the laws of physics. Each individual bird acts on its own accord, and will react differently when in the radius of another bird. Humanity has always used the mimicry of nature and the world around us in order to create new products, ideas, and innovations. Through this computer simulation, we are able to observe natural instincts in the form of computer animation.

Inspiration for this simulation came from a similar project displayed in the 1985 SIGGRAPH named “Eurythmy.” The software used in “Eurythmy” is called the “force field animation system.” Essentially “force fields” are defined in a 3×3 matrix operator that transforms from where the object is located to an acceleration vector. The forcefield associated with each object will then associate attributes to whatever object enters that space. In creating “Boids” there were behavioral patterns that had to be implemented after developing geometrical flight for its particles. These behaviors include collision avoidance, velocity matching, and flock centering. Collision avoidance gives the AI a life like attribute similar to its real life brethren. Velocity matching allows the birds to set its pace with its peers while flocking. Flock centering gives the birds a sense of group flying in order to fight off predators. Measures were taken in order for the birds to have individual mindsets, yet still have an attraction to the flock. During flock simulations, the birds must avoid each other and also barriers in the way. The AI birds were programmed to avoid such issues. This leaves us to spectate on how this had advanced in the recent years, considering this project was created in 1987. AI intelligence has grown significantly as researchers and developers have improved algorithms related to genetics and habits. Game development is an example of how AI interactions have improved on the consumer level. In many other technological fields, facial gestures, robotics, and physical interfaces now exist to reflect human behavior. It is insane to predict what will come within the next decade.

-David Wang


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