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Robots, Robots, Robots 76

destructor writes: "It looks as though robots can answer the questions of life and capitalism through robotic soccer simulations. I found this article over at that tells us about Dr. Balch's experiments with soccer robots [NYT, free reg, blah blah]. For now, it is purely a computer simulation, but I guess it will be turned into a physical environment rather soon."
Additionally Shabazz writes: "The SF Weekly has a story about a band called 'Captured! by Robots' that started by Jay Vance (who some may recognize from Skankin' Pickle) and several robots that he created. The band is a bit out there, but something that any true geek can appreciate. Maybe this is the start of something great!" Additionally Phred noted that the Oregon Robotics Tournament being held this Saturday (December 1).
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Robots, Robots, Robots

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  • Aibo is there too (Score:4, Informative)

    by dda ( 527064 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @06:16AM (#2623889) Homepage
    That's pretty cool . There are lots of sort of soccer championships for robots [], one of them with aibo [], the famous robot dog. It's especialy interresting in the field of the computer vision interaction.
    • I have worked on the McGill university entry to Aibo-playing Robocup from 1999 to 2001. A build the vision system, the localisation system and a control custom language for decisio making. If you weant an idea of want is involved, you can read my report here [], (11 pages).

      The short story is, everyteam need to code a whole bunch of difficult but fairly independent modules. The worse constraints were cpu power and noise. Oh so much noise, from all the jitering jump shaking of the walking. Loads of noise the wheeling robots (in the other categories) didn't have to deal with.

      • Vision - Very small pictures, 80x60 pixels. Fluorenscent-color-coded object to detect : expect they fill 10 pixels, and 4 of them is glare, 3 of them is shadow. Across the teams, little creativity was seen here : training huv->class, the more or less arbitrary function to get rid of the noise. We had something baysian and iterative.
      • Localisation - Noisy sighting of the corners comming in, decision which way to turn to see the target goal comming out. More variety here than in the vision, with various successes. Monte carlo was too heavy and had-oc method weren't good enough. But the best teams of 2000 could track properly.
      • Odometry - some team could infer their movement on the field geometricaly, by traking the angle of the joints - minus all the sliping.
      • Walking - walking was made up by hand more or less, with various amount of creativity, of mathematic and of success from each teams.
      • Decision - decision making was rule based pretty much everywhere. If you don't see the ball, find it. If you see the ball then run on it. If you are close enough, then line up with the target goal. If you are lined up, run in. In 2000 the system began being barely good enough of attempt some cooperation : if you both see the ball and a team mate, back off so to not get in his way.
      Winning team were those that could execute this the most reliably, and who walked the fastest. Fastest without falling over all that is, for there was lots of nucking and elboying between the robots, and few could had vision good enough to see each other.
    • I bet that the basketball playing rats in Helsinki's Heureka could be tought soccer quite quickly. I propose a rats vs. robots tournament. Then I'd put my money on the rats any day. (They could always cheat and piss on the robots to make them short-circuit!)

  • From the BBC's web site from August this year:

    Robot world cup kicks off []

  • by Jace of Fuse! ( 72042 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @06:20AM (#2623894) Homepage
    Now, next time those professional athletes go on strike we can just replace them with robots!
    • Unfortunately Aibo was found to be using performance enhancing transistors.

      He argued that they were purely for recreational purposes but the judges ruling was final.

      Why are people so unkind? - Kamahl

  • by rmo6 ( 47545 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @06:46AM (#2623942)
    How can robotic action teach us about human relations? Humans are so much more complicated than capacitors, circuits and processing units that there is very little that one could find that would allow us to understand human behavior.

    If you look hard enough at anything, you will find what you are looking for.

    Remember a scooner is a sailboat and there is no Easter Bunny.
    • How does dropping a ball let us understand nature?

      You observe human behaviour and have the idea that
      the behavioural pattern is based on certain stimuli and rules. If a robot with the same stimuli and assumed rules shows the same behavioural pattern you'll have good reason to assume that those rules and stimuli are the cause for the behaviour.

      It's similar to Neuronal Networks. How can they teach us about real neurons?
      We try to reduce the complicated interaction of neurons and try to reduce it to its bare functional minimum, which let us understand the functioning of (some) real neuronal networks.

      It's not about the car assembling robots, but about behaviour simulating robots.
    • 1. How can robotic action teach us about human relations? Humans are so much more complicated than capacitors...

      What a non sequitur. From "humans are complicated" it follows that nothing can be learned from simplifications? Kinda refutes 400 years of scientific progress, huh? The whole point is that nature is complex, and that only by isolating subphenomena can we attempt to undersnatnd their individual operations. And finally, we can re combined the isolated parts to being to understand the holistic interactions and interdependencies.

      2. Humans are so much more complicated than capacitors, circuits and processing units. Without meaning to trigger another flame war between the AI camps, this statement is observably false. Humans are instantiated as physcial objects, subject to the same physics as other collections of electrical, emchanical, chemical processes. The interesting distinction arise from level of complexity.

    • Humans are so much more complicated than capacitors, circuits and processing units . . .

      Ultimately, human beings are the sum of a very complex network of capacitors, circuits or processing units. Which depends on what level you choose to examine us on. It is the interaction of all of these and how they organize which makes simple neurons able to produce intelligence. Robot research is an attempt to find the minimal level which can emulate intelligent behaviour.

      Complex? Yes. Incomprehensible? No. Irreplicatible? We're working on it!
    • All problems as far as we know can be placed into a few general categories based upon their complexity. It can be shown (though I won't be doing it) that both making a robot do what you want and making a human do whatever are decidability problems: both have the same degree of complexity in the general sense - one task may be harder, but only because its "bigger" - containing more dimensions or variables that must be tested. HOWEVER, if we can find a technique that will describe/model the robots, then it is extremely likely that we can use a morphologically equivalent technique to describe/model human behaviour (based upon the fact that both problems are decidability problems).

      This is one of the basic ideas of modern artificial intelligence.
  • Why soccer? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PerryMason ( 535019 )
    I personally think that they should have robots competing to see who can complete a jigsaw puzzle first. It is completely unbiased and provides a test of both vision and dexterity, and both to fairly high degrees......but then what do I know?
    • Re:Why soccer? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Neutronix ( 248177 )
      Jugsaws are ok, but they are static.

      Training an algorithm to react in a fast changing environment is much harder and realistic.

      If we can put robots to work as a team in an hostile environment (such as a soccer game), we could also have autonomous robots working on mars and reacting in realtime to their surrondings.

    • Re:Why soccer? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by squaretorus ( 459130 )
      Jigsaws won't work, its too simple a problem (no teamwork required, no changing scenarios in real time), but I agree that something other than Soccer could be a better test of the bots.

      Personally I think SKIING would be an excellent test of bots. And it would enable bot builders to justify funding for trips to the alps every now and again.

      Ever changing scenario, quick responses, weight balancing, gates to get through in difficult visual conditions. Different disciplines - Jumping, Downhill, Boarding etc...

      Admitedly balance element would be a limit at the moment - but given time this could be hugely entertaining stuff to watch when they lose their footing!
    • Re:Why soccer? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AtomicBomb ( 173897 )
      Why Soccer? Because robots have a good chance to win.
      It will make the organisers happy just like the IBM developers with Deep Blue. :-)

      Here is the motto from
      By the year 2050,
      develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots
      that can win against the human world soccer champions.

      I don't really think it will take up 49 more years. If I were a professional (human) soccer player, I will run for life once the walking robots appear in the field (esp for the alpha/beta versions). That's not so funny to see big robots on rampage.

      -- From the perspective of a survivor who got nearly run down by an out-of-control 100kg research robot. ;-)

    • But football is the greatest game in the world!
  • ... about the fact that robots programmed with algorithms created by humans should solve the human way. Since they don't know the outcome of these algorithms how did they find them? Pure luck?

    Why simulate algorithms already created, when it's possible to predict it through calculations? The only reason I can think of is fun. But simulating something is just visualising something we already know.
    • Close to luck (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fireboy1919 ( 257783 )
      The general technique is to use an approximation of search (finding based upon luck) which tends to find good solution. Generally, it is based upon luck, and the only way to guarantee that its human-like is to restrict the search space to human-like possibilities. Whatever human-like means.

      This is NOT the simulation of algorithms already created always, its often the creation of totally new algorithms, which can be extracted after development - a learning approach.

      How? Straight statistics, support vector machines, decision trees, neural networks, fuzzy logic, and simulated annhealing are all common techniques to lead towards the goal. Who knows what they actually use.
  • []
    IIT Bombay has a robotics festival called Yantriki.
    They've had games like TUG-O-WAR in '94, moving on to SOCCER, BASKETBALL, BUNNY WARS, CARROMINES, SUMO WRESTLING and WATER POLO, since it's beginning in '94.
    • Now you've given me a great idea!
      The best game ever invented.

      Alas the 'always be breating out' (saying 'kabadi') aspect doesn't translate directly into the tobotic domain...

      • "Now you've given me a great idea!

        Damn good idea, if I say so.
        How would you spell fun? Oh, that's right, Robot-Kabbadi.

        "Alas the 'always be breating out' (saying 'kabadi') aspect doesn't translate directly into the tobotic domain... "

        Well, you could have robots with software for sound, infinite loops,
        say "kabaddi"
  • by t_allardyce ( 48447 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @07:21AM (#2623983) Journal
    They should replace the fans with robots. That way they might actually be able to sing in-time and tune. Also, they could smash stuff up after the game _carefully_ - cutting tables into neat little bits before throwing them at the opposing teams fans and not at passers by or camera-crews. You could deactivate the most violent ones.

    I think this experiment could teach us allot about stupid people, and how they behave in packs.
    • Why have them do the smashing carefully? If you want to learn about how real crowds act they have to be rough. Just through stuff everywhere in random directions, don't bother cutting it up. This would emulate the average drunk soccer hulligan....
    • My father lost his job. He was replaced by a tiny robot that could do everything he did, only better...

      My mother ordered 2 of them.

      - Woody Allen

  • I found the article very interesting in so much as you got more diversity when the team as whole was rewarded/punished but I really don't agree that the way the the robots played has anything to do with capitalism.

    I would also strongly disagree with the idea that capitalism is just about individuals seaking one goal (to obtain wealth) when in practice it is groups of people working together to obtain that goal. For example in a company (of any size) nothing works if people are just blindly following their own goals, but it does work if people are all working for the greater good of the company. People do not just sit there thinking about whether a decision is going to be benfical to them based on "My Wealth" vs. "Company Good", because if that was all that they did they would obtain neither since their capitalist ideal is at that point linked with the success (or not) of that company.

    Of course there are exceptions to this... But IMO the essence of capitalism is that people as a collective, not just as individuals, can strive towards those goals of accruing wealth, and it is this that the robots are doing. The team that works as a team is the one that is consolidating its wealth and is the one that I think is being more capitalist simply because if they do well as a team then they are doing well as individuals in a team (For example if there are 5 bots and they get 10 goals then each of the bots is 'worth' 2 goals)

    Out of interest I looked up capitalism also. The definition that I got from Websters [] is as follows:

    An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

    I don't see anything in that that says that capitalist is just about getting rich....

    • But IMO the essence of capitalism is that people as a collective, not just as individuals, can strive towards those goals of accruing wealth, and it is this that the robots are doing.

      Capitalism has nothing to do with accruing wealth, or working hard, or working together, or making your own way in the world, or business - these things are ancient and all this crap is mainly out of business propaganda from the last 30 years. Capitalism is about 150 years old if that. Capitalism has to do with accruing property, and it requires a system, laws and bureaucracy that allows individuals to accrue property.

      And since my boss owns everything I and my co-workers produce, I hardly consider working for the company to be a collective goal.

      You say "the essence of capitalism" is people striving collectively to achieve wealth - this could not be less true. You are describing the opposite of capitalism.

      • Actually, capitalism is about leveraging capital, and "property" is just one of the most stable kinds of capital to leverage. I.e., you borrow money against the value of your land and use it to start a business, that's capitalism.

        Hernando de Soto has a great book, "The Mystery of Capital," that postulates the biggest barrier to growth in the 3rd world is that as much as 90% of all property is not "legally" owned so it can't be used as capital. Thus 90% of the wealth in these companies is stagnant wealth.

    • I was so irate by this article that I fired off a letter to the NYT almost immediately. They didn't print it today (of course) but here's the text of what I wrote: In response to the claim that experiments in soccer-playing robots "may be surprising to those who believe that the pursuit of individual rewards -- as in capitalism -- encourages people to develop a diversity of ideas..." the only thing that surprised me was the astonishing leap of illogic performed by the writer. The heart of capitalism, Trade, is not a zero-sum game (as soccer is, by the way) but rather it provides mutual benefit to both parties in a voluntary transaction. In both versions of robot soccer the goal is presumably for each individual to maximize personal reward, but in the group-reward version the best strategy is cooperation, much like in trade. We must conclude that this model is actually the better analogue for a free market economy. If we are looking for an analogue to the individual-reward version of robot soccer, we should perhaps consider systems in which individuals compete ("lobby") for rewards ("entitlements") distributed by a central authority ("Democrats").
    • His experiment was missing most of the real world basis for capitalism - the ability to accumulate capital, the ability to communicate and reward others for their actions, a cost model (some actions cost little but give little gain, some actions cost a lot but give a much bigger gain), etc.

      I'd pit a capitalist robotic team trained on that basis against his egalitarian socialist team any day.
  • Whats the big news? See this( at Uni of Stuttgart ) they even have ROBOCOP matches!


    This is Multiagent theory in the context of AI.
  • I don't know what Mr. Blach is exactly doing but the Robocup [] is already there for years.
  • Robot Emotions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by metlin ( 258108 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @08:03AM (#2624044) Journal
    A poster above had commented on Logical v. Illogical Actions. I'd agree with him, but what actually sets us apart is emotions, or instinct, however you may choose to call it since the two are subtly connected.

    Robot emotions play a much larger part than most people know. In fact, any serious researcher into AI would know that emotions are nothing but another decisive factor, except that they are not well understood.

    I'd seriously advice looking at Arthur T Murray's research into this area available here []. It has a lot more to it than mere `entertainment` value.

    And if you really are worried about robots having souls or a conscience, you should read this! []. It is a pretty insightful article into what robots may have to do to qualify as humans.
  • Capitalism analogy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GodSpiral ( 167039 )
    You will get a lot more useful information if you do social experiments with people instead.

    I agree that group performance as well as individual reward should be rewarded, and in most large companies it is. Annual bonuses are often based on company performance multiplied by individual performance. Rewarding a small group/division is useful where its possible.

    Soccer is individualistic. You will make more money (or receive more fame if amateur) as a striker than as a defender, so if you have the talent, that's the position you want. Economics also alow for people to realize that their talent level may be better suited to being a defender.

    The robot social system may also evolve into letting better robots be the strikers, but its incidental. The motivations of individual fame and wealth are not being accounted for, but is what causes teams and players to stabilize into their positions.
  • No reg. (Score:3, Informative)

    by jeriqo ( 530691 ) <[jeriqo] [at] []> on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @08:29AM (#2624084)
    If you don't want to register, just visit this url [] instead.

  • Think this capitalism argument is based on a false premise...

    The results may be surprising to those who believe that the pursuit of individual rewards -- as in capitalism -- encourages people to develop a diversity of ideas, points of view, goals and strategies to achieve them.

    To summarise quickly - he says when robots are only rewarded for scoring, they all go for goal, whereas when all on a team are rewarded when one scores, they work effectively as a team.

    Now - last time I checked, when my team (company) scores (gets a good deal), we all benefit, not just one of us. So it's a bad analagy, which the guy can stick up his arse (or ass, if we're in socher-land).
  • 'Cause you can't leave out the influence of the crowd on a match!
  • I think we need more than a grain of salt, here, we need a whole bag. I've seen many such pieces of research, and the pattern is this: 1) Code up some sort of multi-agent simulation; 2) Note a behaviour vaguely similar to something seen in humans; 3) Set your Extrapolater on Max; 4) Hand it over to the university's PR department to write press releases and jump up and down about it.

    Note that Balch himself is much more cautious (than the journalist) about the applicability of his findings to human interaction. Who knows, he may even be correct that using artificial agents could be useful in testing social hypotheses -- at least they're controllable and repeatable, though of course that's both good and bad when it comes to trying to model humans. But you'd be crazy to conclude anything about the properties of capitalism or socialism based on individual vs. global feedback schemes.
  • I'm training my Bio Bugs to play a wicked game of Tetherball.
  • Isn't that the word Yanks use for football because they've stupidly reserved the world "football" for their childish, dumbed-down version of rugby?
    • Although rugby is less of a wussy game - argh! Stop being a hippocrite! Naughty Shade, naughty!
      • What are you smoking? American football is a man's game. Rugby is just a way for effete Englishmen to show off their fancy rugby shirts.
    • The word soccer came from England, as a shorthand way of referring to "association football", or football with the modern rules. The US uses it now since switching would be a pain (since the common word is reserved for something else, just like in Canada and Australia, btw). However, we didn't start it; kind of like the shitty measurement system we also inherited.
  • As a youth soccer coach, I could have predicted this finding:

    "Under the first scheme, a reward signal is sent only to robots that score a goal. As the match progresses, every team member ends up learning the same sequence of behaviors -- going after the ball in a solo effort to score. As a result, the circles on the screen bunch around a single point -- wherever the ball is -- leaving the rest of the field open to attack."

    Apparently this guy has never watched six year olds play soccer with Mommy and Daddy cheering from the sidelines for them to "kick it!"
  • From []

    Main Entry: capitalism
    Date: 1877
    : an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

    There is nothing in that definition that says only one individual may benefit. Indeed, it's already been pointed out that private individuals in a capitalist system already voluntarily cooperate for their mutual benefit. Capitalism just means that individual decide rather than the state.

    A better political comparison would be between a robot team where each robot has control over its own robot body, and a robot team with a central master control, telling each robot what to do. Indeed, its interesting that his robots evolve individually where there is a sort of distributed intelligence, rather than under some central authority as in socialism or communism.

    Just for comparison,

    Main Entry: socialism
    Date: 1837
    1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
    2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
    3 : a stage of society in Marxest theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

    I think its interesting that the third definition allows for unequal distribution of goods and pay.

    Also look at ent/PROGRAM.htm [] for one historically influencial socialist group and their platform.
  • It seems to me that this is an obvious result. The rewards being given are very one-dimensional...they only reward scoring. If rewards were given individually, but also given for, say, blocked shots, or breaking up passes, the results would change. You would be able to condition "players" through individual rewards to play offensively or defensively. Variable magnitudes of reward would help to, since you could reward a prospective forward more than a prospective defenseman for scoring a goal and vice versa for defensive play.

    It is somewhat interesting that rewarding the whole team when goals are scored produces some robots specialized for defense, but really, that result is obvious too. Basically, what you are saying with the reward is that whatever position that robot was in, or sequence of actions they were taking at the time of the goal was a good one. If they were in a defensive position at the time of the goal, they'll become slightly more predisposed to defense (assuming that's more or less how their programming works). In other words, it seems to me that all these experiments demonstrate is that their algorithms work.
  • Which one of the robot soccer moms is bringing the robot oranges and robot water in their robot minivan this week?
  • This article is nothing more than a chance for zealots in the "education reform" business to tout the amazing wonders of their baby, cooperative learning.

    As someone who dropped out of high school because of stupid ideas like cooperative learning and "team teaching" and block scheduling which were the antithesis of learning, I'm so tired of seeing this drivel being accepted and put into practice.

    The Article quotes a 'cooperative learning' researcher extolling the joys of diversity that it produces. It doesn't mention that while kids are learning diversity, they're not actually LEARNING anything.

    Group work in a school setting produces smart students who don't excel because they're holding up the rest of the group, mediocre students who can slack because the intelligent ones will do the work for them, and slow students who never get the attention they deserve.

    I'm tired of these education theorists taking their insane pet theories and putting them into schools. And its even worse when they use some sort of silly robotic experiment to back them up. Isn't there some way to stop these wackos?

    • Group work in a school setting produces smart students who don't excel because they're holding up the rest of the group, mediocre students who can slack because the intelligent ones will do the work for them, and slow students who never get the attention they deserve.

      you forgot smart students who don't excel because they forsee the pointlessness of school in general.

      even if they guy who implimented the experiment doesn't think it should be used as a model for how people work, someone dumb down the line will. Its crappy to see things like this implimented, especially in a public type setting (like school). home schooling for everyone! =)
      • you forgot smart students who don't excel because they forsee the pointlessness of school in general. I might have forgotten to mention them. But, I was a high school drop out who had horrible grades because I was bored by high school. I now have a successful company and do outside consulting.

        If there's one thing I can suggest to smart but frustrated high school students, it's this simple message: Get out now. Run, don't walk to take the GED. Just get away from the poison of school.

  • I agree with the opinion of many others that the connection drawn between this simulation and capitalism is a little far fetched. The modivation behind human behaviour is far more complex. Besides group production is rewarded through profit sharing, bonuses and stock options. However, I do think this simulation shows something useful on a far more obvious level. That is that rewarding group behavoir of autonomous agents may produce better group behaviour than individualistic behaviour. As opossed to some behaviour such as bird flocking which has been shown to coorelate well with a purely individual reward (motivation) system. I think one fundemental flaw in his reward system is that rewards are only based on goals. In an individual sense, this will never produce a goalie. So without the proper reward stimulation you can not expect the team to perform well on all levels. A useful experiment to show what's really happening here would be to set up two sets of 50 (or more) teams. Then keep statistics on each player such as scoring, saves, take-aways, etc. For the first set of 50 use an individual reward system. For the second set of 50 use a team reward system. Then draft two teams consisting of the top players from each division and pit them against one another. This might give a better understanding of which reward system really produces better players. Perhaps the individual reward system would produce some real supper stars, where the group reward system only produces good teams, but no stars. Jettra
  • Six year old soccer players is what you get when you give the MIT AI Lab folk one day to write a soccer-playing team in Java:

    AI Olympics Sockey []

    (note: this applet was written independently of the Robocup tournament and doesn't share the same rules or physics.)
  • It's very astounding how many faceted threads this article brings up.
    The author of Logical v. Illogical Actions addresses some interesting points concerning the relevance of using robots to test human-based theories. To continue rmo6's statement, it's important to remember that in the field of nonhuman studies applied to human research, the general rule of thumb is that, as you go up or down the evolutionary tree, you usually end up trading control for relevance (and vice versa). That is to say, rats will do just about anything for the pellet, and monkeys will throw their shit at you. I'd love to follow where and IF robots fit in that scheme. GodSpiral brings up a rather Skinnerian Complaint - that individual performance should be focused on; yet, to answer that, aren't groups composed of individuals? The designers seem to be saying that robot behavior possess tremendous relevance, especially within the field of industrial psych, but like halftrack points out, how do these robots end up going along these paths - serendipity or predilection?
    Also, if you want a fascinating survey of AI development (through communication, technology, industrial, etc) try Janet Murray's "Hamlet on the Holodeck."
  • Cooperation can be explained as a second order genetic effect, i.e. helping some close relatives survive might get more of my genes into the next generation than if I survive and they die. But it can also be explained by the handicap principle: Taking on a visible handicap can increase an organism's chances of attracting a mate. The Handicap Principle, once a controversial theory, is now accepted as our best explanation for all sorts of risk taking behavior.
    Taking risks (cooperation, a big flashy tail, antelopes 'stotting' in front of cheetahs, etc.) proves genetic fitness to potential mates.

    So cooperation is really a form of 'persuit of individual rewards.' A roboticist can simply choose the reward parameters they like for their experiments, but in nature, reward systems are products of evolution favoring winning strategies.

    Cooperation is a better strategy than selfishness because the chicks dig it, and it might help your relatives pass on more genes.

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly