Robert Burke
MIT Media Lab
Synthetic Characters Group


new blog and homepage

Meghan, the pointer (she's cuter than I am)

Greetings!  From 1999 through 2001, I was a Research Assistant and Master's Student in Bruce Blumberg's Synthetic Characters group at the MIT Media Lab.  Here is a link to my new home page and blog.

This page hasn't been updated much since 2001, although I have included links to publications below.  Thanks to the kindness of the Media Lab's tech folks, I can still be reached at my MIT Media Lab e-mail address.

Drama of all sorts: a thesis...
Here is a copy of my Master's Thesis

...presentations about Synthetic Characters...
I presented "Creature Smarts: The Art and Architecture of a Virtual Brain'' with Damian Isla at the 2001 Game Developer's Conference; here are the proceedings (pdf). They represent an overview of our group's recent research, and include all the technical detail in our recent AAAI paper (pdf).  Here are the the slides (zipped ppt) from a talk I gave at the Technical University of British Columbia in February.

Goatzilla time/rate video

... and Goatzilla?

Here is a short video clip (YouTube, WMV, QuickTime) I put together for the 2001 Spring consortium meeting to demonstrate several aspects of my thesis research: drive-based action selection using ActionTuples; time/rate learning inspired by Gallistel's models; planning facilitated by ActionTuple generation; and many new learning visualizers.  

In the clip, captured entirely from our behavior system, goatzilla is performing actions that he has discovered satisfy his various drives: hunger, pain avoidance, the desire to dominate other creatures, and so on.  When the "mouse pointer of Fate" comes in and cranks up his hunger drive, goatzilla is stymied.  He'd like to eat sheep and there aren't any left.  But his time/rate learning mechanism has taught him that kicking the shed reliably leads to the appearance of sheep. So he kicks the shed anticipating the sheep, out they come, there's a feeding frenzy, and goatzilla rejoices.

I didn't expect goatzilla to invade my research, but goatzilla does not ask permission.  (His deepest secret, of course, is that he's just a big dog.)  The Goatzilla video home page is here. 

sheep|dog: Trial By Eire

At the MediaLabEurope opening in Ireland, the group presented sheep|dog: Trial By Eire, which showcased our new system, learning mechanisms, the acoustic pattern matching, and more.  Scott Eaton has put together a cool sheep|dog website. We showed sheep|dog at this year's E3 in Los Angeles.

Rufus 2.0

With Scott, Dan, and the help of the entire Synthetic Characters group, we built Rufus 2, a robotic dog head that is controlled by our behaviour and motor systems.  Rufus has a camera mounted in his right eye, an infrared sensor in his left eye, and a microphone for doing acoustic pattern matching.  He has eight degrees of freedom and a voicebox, and you can train him, for example, to stop barking at his cat.  Take a look at him and find out more by clicking here

The Isle of Man's Best Friend

In March of 2000 we finished work on The Isle of Man's Best Friend, a demo released at the Computer Game Developers Conference 2000.  In the process of designing it, we rebuilt the entire codebase from scratch.  The new system (which has since become known as c1) represented a big step forward for just about every part of the codebase.  Click the image of the isle, or here, for more images from the demo.

Some of my past work: Greasepole, Sydney K-9.0

Last year, Yuri Ivanov and I wrote dogEar, an acoustic pattern matcher for Sydney K-9.0, our first installation for the Synthetic Characters "Year of the Dog."  (Duncan, Goatzilla and the wolves use it now.)  

The last major project I worked on before beginning work at the Media Lab was The Legend of the Greasepole, an interactive experience that showcased a display of teamwork among almost 100 autonomous characters.  The notion of a Greasepole is going to require some explanation, so please visit the site to find out more. 

My grandmother's clock - an influence?


Here are two of my essays from Marvin Minsky's The Society of Mind course, which I took in Spring 2000.  The first, Learning the Hard Way, draws on negative learning ideas from The Society of Mind, and Doug Lenat's work on knowledge classification.  The second, Time, For a Change, considers how the passage of time might affect our creatures.

After Minsky's Society of Mind and Rodney Brooks' Embodied Intelligence, I took Whitman Richards' Perception and Cognition course, and Laura Harrington's playwriting course.   My thesis was influenced by all of these -- and the courses that came before.

Tromso, Norway (a.k.a. Valhalla)

The Norwegian Connection

I spent the summer of 1999 in Tromsø, a Norwegian town of 50,000 people some 70 degrees north of the equator.  I returned for New Year's 2000, and the thought of visiting again makes me pine for the fjords.

I kept an online diary that's full of digital pictures taken with a Nikon Coolpix 900.  There are a couple of pages I'd say are worth looking at.  The first is of the day we climbed Tromsdaltinden, the mountain pictured to the left.  Another is the Lofoten Island series.  Finally, my trip through Scandinavia by train (with stops in Bodø, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Amsterdam). 

The rest of the online diary I kept is thorough, if not occasionally cute.  My login name, solan, is the name of a Norwegian bird.  (If you knew this already, drop me an e-mail, være se snill!)

Karen, John-Markus, Kjell and Anette land the big one

Pure, Unmitigated... Stuff
Here are some pictures of my family - my folks, my sisters Elizabeth (on right) and Caleigh (on left) (and again, the two of them), and Meghan (the furry one with all the energy)  Here's a big fish.  Here are sheep.  Here are very early incarnations of our sheep doing the imperial jig (and me attempting a faux highland accent).  Here's something about dogs in elk which apparently is true. Here are some friends from Canada slamming their jackets around with me outside the Media Lab.  Here's my former officemate Song Yee in a Queen's University tam.  Here's a particle system in progress.  Here's dear Jessica, born and raised in New Zealand.  Goatzilla says, "love meeeeeee!"  And this is me (dreadfully fisheyed) from Rufus' dog's eye view.  Here's Duncan H. Terrier after a few pints.  Here's Damian beside our last crunch-time smorgasborg.  And here's a play I once wrote about some stuff. This is what the Destinasjon Tromsø web-cam suggested Norway looked like the other day.  And not only is this the view out the window of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, but this (and these mountains) and are only minutes away from there. 

Love me! Love me!

Contacting Me
Sending me e-mail by clicking here is probably the fastest way to get in touch.  

Characters-Related Publications (rev. Feb/02)
R. Burke, B. Blumberg. "Using Apparent Temporal Causality for Learning in Synthetic Creatures." In the Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS), Bologna, Italy. To Appear July 2002. (pdf available shortly)

R. Burke.  It's about Time: Temporal Representations for Synthetic Characters. (M.S. Thesis.) Rev. September 2001 (pdf)

D. Isla, R. Burke, "A Layered Brain Architecture for Synthetic Characters," in the Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), pp.1051-1058, Seattle, WA, August 2001. (pdf)

R. Burke, D. Isla, M. Downie, Y. Ivanov and B. Blumberg. "Creature Smarts: The Art and Architecture of a Virtual Brain." In the Proceedings of the Game Developers Conference, pp. 147-166, San Jose, CA, 2001. (pdf)

S.-Y. Yoon, R. C. Burke, B. M. Blumberg, G. E. Schneider. "Interactive Training for Synthetic Characters," in the Proceedings of AAAI 2000. (pdf) (ps)