Saturday, February 17, 2007

Even in a Very Simple Life Form Behavioral Analysis is too Simple

I like to play a series of games called Creatures. In these games, you have creatures called norns which you raise. There are also grendels and ettins, which differ mainly in one gene that tells the game what species they're supposed to be. (All examples of specific types of creatures are taken from Creatures 3 and some are not accurate for other versions.)
These creatures have digital DNA and very simple brains capable of learning. You can tickle them to reward them and slap them to punish them.
One example of how behavioral analysis doesn't explain everything is that although slapping a creature in this game is fairly effective in stopping most unwanted behaviors, it increases the tendency to run from whatever they're looking at. That's because they get scared from getting slapped, and run away from things when they are scared.
Another example is that something can have different effects on different creatures. For example, the standard norns, if they eat detritus (rotten food), they get pain, and therefore learn that they shouldn't do that (which is a good idea, because they are poisoned from it. But one type, called Toxic norns, are helped by things that are normally poisonous. Instead of getting pain from eating detritus, their hunger is decreased by it. So a normal norn learns not to eat detritus while a toxic norn learns to eat it, simply because the action has different effects on them. This is genetic.
Also, if you take a newborn normal norn and a newborn toxic norn, who have never before eaten anything, and offer them detritus, the toxic norn is much more likely to eat it. This is because they have instincts for eating detritus. Another example is that the standard grendels have instincts to hit norns (they're supposed to be the 'bad' guys). You can train a grendel not to hit norns, but these instincts will still pop up occasionally, and you'll have to reinforce the lesson. They will never be as safe for norns to be around as if they didn't have those instincts.
Drives are also important. Grendels tend to get angry easily, especially around norns. They will sometimes hit other grendels simply because they are angry and hitting creatures, of any type, reduces anger.
[Edit: On a completely different topic, I found out today that the song Mrs Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel is about an old woman entering a nursing home and how patronising the staff is towards her.]

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