AAAI 2008 Fall Symposia Reports

Article excerpt

Adaptive Agents in Cultural Contexts

The goal of the Adaptive Agents in Cultural Contexts symposium was to investigate agents and environments for behavior in social and cultural contexts and for realistic adaptation of such agents to changing situations.

Computational human behavior models, in extending a conventional information-processing approach, face two complex problems: adaptation and evolution of behavior, and the cultural specificity of cognition. These fields are vast, variegated, informed by disparate theoretical and technical disciplines, and interrelated. This symposium was intended to examine the intersection of findings from the field, theory, and applications in such areas as autonomous agent models and simulations for research, international commercial enterprise, nongovernmental organizations, and military, as well as commercial, games.

The symposium began with an invited talk given by psychologist Helen Klein of Wright State University, who addressed the dimensions of culturally specific cognition and surveyed behavioral phenomena across cultures. This theoretical basis spoke directly to one of the two major modeling approaches among the symposium's papers, focusing on behavioral aspects of the individual agent. In these approaches, cultural characteristics of behavior in individual agents was identified and implemented in the context of conventional cognitive architectures. The other major modeling approach tackled the issue of cultural change, simulating the transmission of culture through societies of agents. These approaches drew from theoretical underpinnings in genetics and memetics, studying phenomena such as coalition formation in an artificial life environment.

Applications for adaptive and culturally sensitive models included simulation-based training, decision aids, and environments for communication and collaboration between agents both automated and human controlled. Part of the symposium involved the demonstration and analysis of virtual environments for agents, along with automated agents in these environments, such as the inhabitants of an Iraqi town demonstrating culturally accurate verbal, gestural, and psychological behavior. Other applications included case-based retrieval of narratives culturally relevant to a posed problem. Some models focused more directly on adaptation, from machine-learning and game-theoretic perspectives, but discussions suggested ways in which those adaptations might vary from one cultural context to another.

The symposium was intended not only for the presentation of research but also for bridging disciplines and connecting stakeholders among the populations of users, modelers, and researchers. To this end, there was a good deal of informal discussion and debate, particularly toward resolving disconnects--of terminology, perspective, and even of culture--between the field from which data derives, the theory developed from that data, and the applications that embody that theory. Some unexpected topics arose, such as the prospects for the use of agents and simulation environments in cultural preservation and the necessary technologies and representations to maintain them for future use. Participants expressed a willingness to continue these discussions following the weekend, to expand to other disciplines such as human-computer interaction, and to reconvene at similar such symposia in future years.

Alex Davis and Jeremy Ludwig of Stottler Henke Associates, Inc., served as cochairs of this symposium. The papers of the symposium were published as AAAI Press Technical Report FS-0801.

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