If you're wondering where the Caprica writers get their ideas for how the cylons work, the answer is that they've got a real roboticist consulting with them. Yesterday he explained why Zoe's cylon isn't as far-fetched as you might think.

Northwestern University robotics engineer Malcolm McIver was a consultant on the upcoming movie Tron, and worked with writers on Battlestar Galactica as well as Caprica to make the cylons plausible - if not possible (yet). He tells Script Ph.D.:

One of the themes of my research is understanding the ways in which intelligence is not just all about what's above your shoulders. Nervous systems evolved with the bodies they control-the interaction is extremely sophisticated, and stubbornly resists our attempts to understand it through basic science research or emulation in robotics . . . One of the things we've learned about the cleverness that resides outside the cranium is that things like the spinal cord are incredibly sophisticated "brains" operating sometimes without much input from upstairs. Through some old experiments that are better not gone into, scientists showed that animals can walk with little brain beyond the parts that regulate circulation and breathing and their spinal cord. This is because the spinal cord can do most of what we need for basic locomotion without any input. The point is that control of the body is distributed-it doesn't just live in the brain. The lesson hasn't been lost on robotics folks; for example, Rodney Brooks popularized an approach called "subsumption architecture" based on this idea. So – back to Caprica: For episode 2, "Rebirth," the show needed some explanation for why the metacognitive processor was only working in one robot. The real reason, as we know, is that only one had Zoe in it; but the roboticists were being pressed by Daniel Graystone as to why it wasn't working in others. The idea that I gave them, which they used, was that it was because this particular metacognitive processor had distributed its control to peripheral subunits. Because of this, it had become tied to one particular robot. It's an idea straight out of contemporary neuroscience and efforts to emulate this in robotics.


So maybe not every detail of Caprica is scientifically accurate, but it's interesting to know how much thought went into creating Zoe's cylon.

There's a lot more interesting stuff in this interview, via Script Ph.D.

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