Robots Like Humans  —  Or Not?

There has been great interest in robots that seem to act like human, not just in the movies, but also in technology news. So much so, that the big debate in the robot world would seem to be how much we should program our robots to be like us.

Previously, I’ve blogged about machines that create art, poetry and even news reports. While those are all intellectual exercises that people might think “smart” machines could do, there are also robots from Japan, of course, that can dance — maybe break dance — as you can see in this video from earlier this year.

(It’s worth noting that much of this leading edge robotics of this
kind is coming from Japan, perhaps in the face of a declining and aging
human population.)

Murata
has made dancing robotic cheerleaders, albeit to show how to control
and coordinate robots and not necessarily to set the dancing world on
fire. They too have a video to demonstrate the point.

image

Some Canadians sent a robot, called Hitchbot, hitchhiking, like a
college student seeing the world for the first time. More than a year
ago, I blogged
about its trip across Canada. Then two months ago, there were several
reports about how sad it was that HitchBot was beheaded by the criminal
elements who supposedly control the streets of Philadelphia at night.
The New York Times’s poignant headline was “Hitchhiking Robot, Safe in Several Countries, Meets Its End in Philadelphia”.  

Later substantial evidence was brought to light that media personalities were responsible. See “Was hitchBOT’s destruction part of a publicity stunt?

In any event, to make up for the loss of HitchBot, other Philadelphians built Philly Love Bots. Radio station WMMR promoted
their own version called Pope-Bot, in anticipation of the trip by Pope
Francis. It has survived the real Pope’s trip to Philly and has even
traveled around that area without incident.

image

Consider also sports, which has featured humans in contests with each
other for thousands of years – albeit aided, more recently, by very
advanced equipment and drugs.

Apparently, some folks now envision
sports contests fought by robots doing things humans do, but only
better. Cody Brown, the designer known for creating the visual
storytelling tool Scroll kit, sees a different kind of story. In TIME
Magazine, he suggested seven reasons “Why Robotic Sports Will One Day Rival The NFL”.

We also want robots to provide a human touch. Thinking of the needs of the elderly, RIKEN
has developed “a new experimental nursing care robot, ROBEAR, which is
capable of performing tasks such as lifting a patient from a bed into a
wheelchair or providing assistance to a patient who is able to stand up
but requires help to do so.”

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The research staff at the Google Brain project have been developing a
chatbot that can have normal conversations with people, even on
subjects that don’t lend themselves to factual answers to basic
questions that are the staple of such robotic services – subjects like
the meaning of life. The chatbot learned a more human style by ingesting and analyzing an enormous number of conversations between real people.

Of
course, the desire to make robots and their ilk too much like humans
can backfire. Witness the negative reaction to Mattel’s Talking Barbie.

Indeed,
there are benefits if we don’t try to make robots in our human image –
although doing so might make us feel less like gods 🙂

At
Carnegie-Mellon, researchers decided that maybe it didn’t make sense to
put “eyes” on a robot’s head, the way human bodies do. As they announced a few days ago, instead, they put the eyes into the robot’s hands and that made the fingers much more effective.

We
ought to consider that, with ever growing intelligence, eventually
robots will figure it all out themselves. Researchers at Cambridge
University and the University of Zurich have laid the groundwork by
developing a robotic system
that evolves and improves its performance. The robotic system then
changes its own software so that the next generation is better.

As the lead researcher, Dr. Fumiya Iida, said:

“One
of the big questions in biology is how intelligence came about – we’re
using robotics to explore this mystery … we want to see robots that are
capable of innovation and creativity.”

And where that
leads will be unpredictable, except that it isn’t likely the robots will
improve themselves by copying everything we humans do.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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