starts with a theoretical case for what we call activity-orientated structure,
arguing that activities are an important part of human life, and one that
will become increasingly important in future simulations including human-like
agents in believable contexts. Second, since there are so many different
activities, it is important they can be added easily to the system and
realized in the game world as actual (albeit non-physical) objects, rather
than (say) abstractions in the minds of agents.
Implementational issues are also explored, focusing on the way activities
should be added to the system. We argue that activities should be defined
in a high-level language, which is compiled into C++. An example piece
of activity-content, defined in this high-level language, is presented.
The Case for Activity-Orientated
Activities are Important in the Simulation of Agents
Since this article is concerned almost exclusively with the notion of
'activities', it seems prudent to begin by trying to explain why we believe
this concept merits such attention. In particular, we shall seek to establish
activities are part of human life, and thus are usefully 'included'
(in some sense) in simulations of human-like agents.
activities are an important part of human life; thus their inclusion
in simulations is correspondingly important to the believability of
activities are the most important part of human life, that which distinguishes
us from mere brutes. Thus, without addressing the activity concept in
our simulations, we will be limited to simulating brutes.
activities are part of human life - agents who do not understand them
can appear dumb. This minimal claim is most easily illustrated by
considering a series of examples where an agent's lack of 'understanding'
of activities and their relations can be cited as a failing of that agent.
chess computer. Although it is very good at chess, a chess computer
is blind to the world around. It will never get bored of playing chess,
and want to play something else. It does not understand, in other words,
that playing chess is merely one activity amongst many, which satisfies
some desires but not others. The chess computer doesn't understand the
place of chess within the social flux - it doesn't understand that chess
is a game played for recreation or competition.
problem with Black & White. In this game, a creature may be
making friends with another, when he decides to interrupt this to go
toilet. What is stupid about this behaviour is that the agent had no
understanding of the consequences (for the activity of making friends)
of stopping in mid-conversation to relieve himself. The same problem
can arise in The Sims (a very entertaining piece of software):
Peter's character was chatting up a lady, but then got tired, and in
the middle of his chat he went off to have a bath. (The fact that this
happens in both programs shows it is a moderately deep problem, and
not a consequence of one particular implementation).
understanding of Ownership. Nowadays, many games include agents
owning objects. But this "ownership" is implemented in the
simplest possible way. The following comments apply to SHRDLU, but apply
directly to modern computer games. "SHRDLU cannot be said to understand
the meaning of "own" in any but a sophistic sense. SHRDLU's
test of whether something is owned is simply whether it is tagged "owned".
There is no intensional test of ownership, hence SHRDLU knows what it
owns, but doesn't understand what it is to own something. SHRDLU would
understand what it meant to own a box if it could, say, test its ownership
by recalling how it had gained possession of the box, or by checking
its possession of a receipt in payment for it; could respond differently
to requests to move a box it owned from requests to move one it didn't
own; and, in general, could perform those tests and actions that are
generally associated with the determination and exercise of ownership
in our law and culture" [Herbert A Simon, "Artificial Intelligence
Systems that Understand" (IJCAI-77, Proceedings) p.1064 [quoted
in Dreyfus p.13] Agents (in current computer games) do not understand
ownership because they do not understand the social activity in which
ownership is embedded: ownership is a concept which belongs to the social
activity of Enforcing Ownership, an activity which involves agents monitoring
who owns what, and punishing others who mess with other people's things.
Activities add colour to our lives, lives which are otherwise coarse and
materialist. From a certain perspective, our lives can seem empty.
If all that there is in the world is other objects and agents, what is
there for us to do except manipulate those objects and agents? All that
we can want is to acquire as many objects as possible, and have as much
influence over other people as possible.
This coarse and materialistic view of human nature is based on the assumption
that all that exists is other objects and agents. Getting away from this
dark picture involves admitting the existence of a variety of social activities.
These activities elevate us because they give us new things to want. The
lives of the Black and White creatures and the Sims characters are unquestionably
materialistic because their desires are materialistic.
Maximally strong claim: participation in sophisticated social activities
is the critical property which distinguishes people from animals.
Heidegger distinguished between merely existing, as an animal exists,
and full-fledged human existence. (Heidegger called this "Dasein"
or "being-there", and characterised it as participation in the
social flux of the world). This insight has filtered through into popular
culture: a well-known mobile phone company has mooted that "life
is made of one to ones". Even Swedish popsters Abba echo the sentiment
- "Without a song or a dance what are we?" - in other words,
it is our participation in forms of life that makes us uniquely human.
The sophisticated skills we prize about ourselves, our ability to reflect,
communicate, care about others, are dependent on our ability to participate
in various social activities. Social activities, rather than just being
one of the many things the mind thinks about, are actually the things
which make sophisticated thought possible. It is because we can participate
in sophisticated social activities that we can have the sophisticated
thoughts that we prize. Philosophers have given many examples of aspects
of sophisticated personhood which are conditional on participating in
of language. Wittgenstein's language-games are examples in which
someone knows what something means because he understands the activity
he is in. Investigations $2: "The language is meant to serve for
communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building
with building-stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B
has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them.
For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words "block",
"pillar", "slab", "beam". A calls them
out; -B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such
a call. If someone understands what "pillar" means, he does
so in virtue of understanding its role in the activity in which it is
towards others. Wittgenstein asks "Why can a dog feel fear
but not remorse? Would it be right to say "Because he can't talk"?"
[Zettel $518] The reason a dog can't feel remorse is that he cannot
participate in the moral community in such a way as to recognise or
manifest remorse. It is because he cannot participate in this activity
that he cannot enter into these feelings.
"The concept of pain is characterised by its particular function
in our life. Pain has this position in our life, has these connections".
"The concept of pain is bound up not just with characteristic pain-behaviour
in circumstances of injury or illness, but also with pity and commiseration,
fear and anxiety, cruelty and mercy." [B&H Vol3 p.68]
and Organisation of Knowledge. "Heidegger pointed out that
the outer horizon or background of cultural practices was the condition
of the possibility of determining relevant facts and features and thus
prerequisite for structuring the inner horizon" [Dreyfus 36] In
other words, we must not represent facts in one big pool, but must organise
them structured by which social activities they are relevant to. This
is the way for agents to get efficient access to the things which are
relevant in a particular situation. "The basic insight dominates
these discussions that the situation is organized from the start in
terms of human needs and propensities which give the facts meaning"
Are Varied and Must be Easily Addable
Here are a few paradigmatic examples of activities.
(with winners, and without winners)
groups (e.g. the "in crowd", "the nerds")
- A night
out; say to the cinema
- An insult
of these activities, like a meal, are short-lived, but others are extremely
long-term: a family lasts as long as there is anyone in it. Some activities
can only exist within the context of a parent activity - a Goodbye activity,
for example, cannot exist on its own. These activities which must have
parents are called sub-activities.
These activities group people together, and these groupings can overlap:
In this dramatically charged example of activity-overlap, Arthur and Belinda
are married. Arthur and Charlie are friends, but Belinda and Charlie are
Since there are so many different sorts of activity, we shouldn't think
in terms of "adding activities to our simulation" being a one-off
operation. Rather, once our simulation has become activity-enabled, activities
have become a kind of content. When building a simulation of a society
of agents, there are many different levels at which we should easily be
able to add new content - there is no magic formula or technique to generate
plausible agents, there is just lots of different behaviour to simulate.
Each bit of behaviour needs to be easily-addable; behaviour needs to be
addable at lots of different levels (e.g. objects, animations, actions,
and goals). If our simulations are to address activities, as we have argued
they must, then activities become one of these levels. The sophistication
of a simulation is a function of the level at which we can easily add
Activities Exist Inside or Outside the Minds of the Agents?
We have presented arguments aiming to illustrate that 'activities', in
a broad sense, are something which must be present in realistic simulations
of people. Further, we have argued that new activities should be easily
addable. We have been deliberately vague, thus far, in precisely how this
importance is to be addressed, and in what sense they should be 'included'.
It is our claim that the best way to include them is for there to be actual
'activity-things', non-physical entities with their own state and internal
logic to them, existing in the game world. Based on their state, they
influence the behaviour of the agents within them, and based on what happens,
they change their state. Vitally importantly, an 'activity-thing' does
not command its participants to obey - it just requests that they perform
an action, and tells them the consequences of ignoring this request. The
agents themselves decide which requests to listen-to, based on their evaluation
of the consequences of performing the various options.
There is one superficially impressive argument against this model, viz
the fact that, in the real world, it seems that activities do not exist,
at least in this sense. If they exist at all, they exist in our minds
alone. "Ought we not, therefore, simply build the agent minds in
an appropriate way, and hope that they 'discover' or 'learn' activities?"
The activities-really-exist approach has significant advantages over the
all-in-agents'-minds one. Firstly, it is vastly simpler. Second, it is
much less wasteful of memory - the state of activities would, in a simulation
based on the second approach, have to be stored multiple times, once for
each agent. Third, it is much clearer how newly created types of activity
(the creation of which, we have argued, must be as simple as possible)
will fit into the activities-really-exist approach - they just create
new kinds of activity objects in the world. Under both approaches, the
agents minds ultimately make the choices over which actions they want
to take - activities are only a guide.
Having dismissed the in-agents-minds approach to activities, no other
natural contenders, apart from the one we have suggested, present themselves.
It has the virtue of straightforwardness, and of being (to some extent)
tried-and tested: in Black and White,. towns, reactions and dances were
all implemented as 'group minds'.
Now that we have explained why we think there should be 'activity-things'
in the game-world, let us drop the shudder quotes and silly name, and
call them simply group activities, or (where no confusion with the naive
meaning of the word arises) simply activities.
"Are You Not Really a Behaviorist in Disguise?"
There is a worry that by focussing on the social activity, and allowing
activities to influence how agents behave, we are taking something away
from the individual agents - where is agent autonomy in this world of
overlapping activities which jointly determine behaviour? Are we not really
behaviourists in disguise, who are taking the cleverness out of the agent,
and putting it into the social activities instead?
Remember that an agent does not blindly follow the commands of an activity.
Instead, an activity requests that an agent does something (and communicates
to him the consequences of failing to follow this request). An agent who
is in many overlapping activities at once will have a number of requests
pending at any time, and must choose between them. He decides which to
follow by looking at the consequences of accepting or rejecting each request,
and chooses the option which best satisfies his current goals.
"OK", says the objector, "your agents have some autonomy
because they can choose between the various requests they receive. But
they are not properly autonomous because the range of choices is dictated
from outside (by the activities), they do not themselves decide what the
range of choices is".
This objection misses the point made earlier, by Wittgenstein and others,
that participation in an activity enables us to make choices we couldn't
otherwise make. Unless we are participating in the game of chess, we cannot
choose between castling kingside and queenside. This choice is only available
to us once we have entered into the chess-playing activity. Social-activities,
in other words, are not constrictive but enabling. As another example,
a couple cannot get married except in a societal and cultural context.
Without culture, while they can visit a civic building, swap rings, say
appropriate words, sign in a book and take lots of photos, they have not
got married despite the fact that (in the particular culture and society
that the authors come from) these are the physical actions that a couple
do perform if they get married. Participation opens up new possibilities.