The Emergence of Artificial Culture in Robot Societies (or, the Artificial Culture project) is a four-year research effort to understand why people have culture. This is done with little swarm robots; by building a simple robot society, creating suitable initial conditions, then running the robot society they watch to see if simple proto-cultural behaviours, i.e. 'traditions', emerge.
(The Emergence of Artificial Culture in Robot Societies)
In the limited memory trials each robot had a memory capacity of only five learned memes, so that when a new meme was learned the oldest one in the robot’s memory was deleted...
When we ran multiple trials of the limited and unlimited memory cases, then analysed the number and sizes of the clusters of related memes in the meme pool, we saw that the limited memory trials showed a smaller number of larger clusters than the unlimited memory case. The difference was clear and significant; with limited memory an average of 2.8 clusters of average size 8.3, with unlimited memory 3.9 clusters of size 6.9.
Why is this clustering interesting? Well it’s because the number and size of clusters in the meme pool are good indicators of its diversity. Think of each cluster of related memes as a ‘tradition’. A healthy culture needs a balance between stability and diversity. Neither too much stability, i.e. a very small number (in the limit 1) of traditions, or too much diversity, i.e. clusters so small that there are no persistent traditions at all. Perhaps the ideal balance is a smallish number of somewhat persistent traditions.
One of my favorite sf stories of the 1970's is Home is the Hangman, by Roger Zelazny. In the story, a robot (the Hangman) with a "learning brain" is trained using a telefactoring connection with each of several researchers. In the process of imparting lessons on how to move around and manipulate objects, the connection also passes some measure of the feeling and emotions of the researchers.
As a prank, the researchers use the Hangman to break into a bank. Unfortunately, a human guard is killed; the Hangman feels the guilt and horror of the researchers and has what amounts to a 'psychotic break'.
Eventually, the robot achieves a kind of integration and comes back to confront his makers.