Enter the maze

Meanwhile, somewhere in Canada: A Sodarace story

A sodarace

Sodarace is an online olympics: a clash of creativity between humans and machines. Who can create the fastest creatures to race over digital terrains? Humans use their ingenuity, drawing and engineering skills to hand craft a creature that can roll, scurry or run as fast as possible over a given 2-dimensional terrain in a Sodarace virtual world. The "machines" are programs that use a variety of artificial intelligence techniques to similarly create fast creatures.

Sodarace players often use genetic algorithms to create their artificial racers, combining human and machine creativity. Once you've designed the terrain you can take an already developed racer, for example a Daintywalker, and by using a genetic algorithm find the best set of values for the springs and the way they move to get your racer over the course the fastest. This is similar to the process of evolution by natural selection in nature, where animals find the best way to survive in different environments. In the Sodaplanets project Queen Mary students actually developed a whole software package to let you experiment with the sorts of soda lifeforms that would evolve for particular types of planets. You can play with the software that can be downloaded from the Queen Mary Sodaplanet site, create a few planets and see digital evolution for yourself.

Mutations by computer

A Dainty Walker

One of they keys to good survivability in a sodaworld is mutation. Small random changes to the racer often produce racers that are better than any other. When the first ever Sodarace went public, computer scientists spent a great deal of time creating a super daintywalker to cover the racetrack faster than any other previous daintywalkers. They used computer generated mutations to find the best solution, and when they did they posted it in the Sodarace forum (see a video) and set to writing a press release to tell the world of their accomplishments the next day.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Canada

That night a kid in Canada found the race, and set to the challenge: to manually try to find a better mutation to beat the Queen Mary racer ... and he did. The next day the scientists found that they had been beaten and had to quickly rewrite the press release. So in the first ever public Sodarace human ingenuity, creativity and a strong desire to solve a problem had triumphed over the computer program. News of the human victory went around the news websites of the world. Round one to humanity. Actually, machine intelligence still had some tricks up its digital sleeve ... but that's a different story.