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
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.
... 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!)
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.
Sending me e-mail
by clicking here is probably the fastest way to get in touch.
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
R. Burke. It's about
Time: Temporal Representations for Synthetic Characters. (M.S. Thesis.) Rev.
September 2001 (pdf)
D. Isla, R. Burke, et.al. "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)