The Age Of Robots – household robots being developed – Statistical Data Included

Will Robots Dominate Our Future?

“The date is January 23, 2035,” says the robot-butler. “Outside, the weather is bright and clear. The temperature is a pleasant 40 degrees, Will you now arise, sir?”

“No way, ” mumbles the man in bed.

“I must point out, sir, that you will be late for work if you do not arise now,” says the robot.

“Yeah, OK, you glorified tin can, ” says the man.

“Thank you, sir, but I am not made of tin, ” says the robot as it gently rubs its metaloplastic arm.

The man groans, rubs his eyes, looks into the deep-blue glow of the robot’s eyes, then shakes his head and presses a button activating the in-bed laser shaver.

At this point, the robo-butler steps quietly out of the bedroom. In less than a minute it returns with the man’s clothes and, with a happy expression, stands ready to assist as the man dresses for work.

The man passes through the spotless and neat living room. (The mini robo-cleaners did their job in the night and are now again safely under the couch.) In the kitchen, the robo-cook begins to fry some tofu eggs in nonfat grease. The man eats in a hurry, as his robo-watch tells him he has only 20 minutes to get to work. As he eats, the robo-cook chats with him. “Do you think we’ll have any snow at all this winter? the cook says. Without waiting for an answer, it says: “They say global warming is melting the polar ice cups.”

The man makes a mental note to switch the cook’s voice synthesizer to “mute,” at least in the morning. In the garage, he can hear the soft hum of the robo-car, which has sensed that the man would soon be on his way to work.

Is that the shape of your future? Will you wake up each morning to a robot-run house, enter a robot car, and work at a job where robots will be as much a part of the workforce as humans? Will you talk and interact with robots the same way you do with other humans?

You can bet on it, say scientists.

“The 1980s was the decade of the PC, the ’90s of the Internet, but I believe the decade just starting will be the decade of the robot,” said Toshitada Doi, president of Sony Digital Creatures Laboratory. “Ten years from now, I believe most households will keep two or three personal robots. My expectation is that these robots will be able to talk naturally with humans, say, about the latest gossip.”

Robot is a word invented by the Czech science-fiction writer Karel Cepek (SAY-pek). It comes from the Czech word meaning. “slave” or “forced laborer.” Today, scientists call any machine a robot if it can make decisions independent of direct human control. A radio-controlled toy car, for instance, is not a robot because it needs people to turn it on and off and to move it forward and backward. A house thermostat, however, is a simple robot because it turns itself on and off when the temperature rises and falls.

Current Research

Today, robots already play an important part in our world. Almost every auto assembly line is crowded with robotic arms that weld parts of cars together more precisely than humans can. In space, the Mars rover is a machine that is programmed to roll over the surface of the Red Planet and make decisions on its own of where to go and what to do. On Earth, scientists have used robots to investigate frozen Antarctica, explore the molten interiors of active volcanoes, and peer at the deepest depths of the oceans.

Even the most advanced of today’s robots is a complete I moron compared with robots on the drawing boards and even being test-built in laboratories around the world.

Japan is in the middle of a ten-year national project to build a humanoid robot that will act as a human worker or servant. According to Hirochika Inoue, head of robot research at the Univer-sity of Tokyo, such a robot “will work in an unstructured environment and perform complex tasks.” Honda has already built a 4-foot-tall humanoid robot capable of walking and even dancing, much like a human. It is called the Honda P3 and looks like a short, white-suited astronaut.

Honda hopes to develop the P3 to the point where the robot will help people who are elderly or disabled by anticipating their needs and preventing them from injuring themselves.

At Japan’s Nippon Electric Company (NEC), scientists are building personal assistant robots called R100s, which look like characters from South Park. R100s can do a number of simple tasks, such as turning off and on a television. The large-eyed, big-headed, 2-foot-high robots can also recognize 100 phrases in Japanese and respond to human facial expressions.

Sony has developed AIBO, a robotic dog that never needs to be fed, bathed, or walked. It doesn’t shed fur or bark at the neighbors and plays with a ball all by itself: Although AIB0 understands and responds to humans, it can’t distinguish between faces. AIBO costs more than $2,000 and comes with a 150-page owner’s manual.

Robot Brains and Faces

P3s, R100s, and AIBOs are all considered smart robots, but just how smart robots will get depends on advances in computer technology. Scientists are working on developing simple computers as small as large molecules. A number of those joined and placed in a robot might make a robot brain that can actually think and react like a human brain. According to Hans Morovec, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, science has the ability to create robotic intelligence equal to human intelligence by 2050.

Of course, a successful robot servant of the future will need more than simple intelligence. It will have to learn to identify and respond to human emotions. Kismet, a “face” robot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is being taught to respond to and interact with humans by showing emotions in its facial expressions. When Kismet first meets a human, the face shows delight. If visitors wave their hands close to Kismet, it shows annoyance. If they show it bright colors, it smiles–and if humans around it don’t do anything, it actively seeks out something else of interest. Researchers hope that Kismet may be the first step toward building lifelike humanoid robots of the future.

Animalistic Robots

Scientists are also trying to build robots that are based on an assortment of animals. They have developed robots that act like monkeys, using long metal arms and tails to move from limb to limb in metal forests. Robot makers have created robots that are built like snakes, lizards, and even fish or crabs for underwater work. Scientists at MIT are even testing a dinosaur robot. It is called Troody because it is based on Troodon, one of the smartest of the dinosaurs.

One robot, being built by researchers Roger Quinn and Roy Ritzmann at Case Western University in Cleveland, is in the shape of a giant cockroach! Quinn and Ritzmann studied the nerve and muscle structures of cockroaches, which they admire because their efficient system of locomotion! A smart cockroach-shaped robot would be able to go into places that a human-shaped robot could not.

At least one scientist, Kris Pister of the University of California at Berkeley, sees a robotic future dominated by what he calls “smart dust”–independent robots smaller than mosquitoes. Although equipped with. sensors and ways to move about, each tiny robot would be relatively simple. But if thousands of them were combined, they would be capable of amazing things, says Pister. Sprinkled on a child’s clothing, for example, the tiny ‘bots could monitor the child’s location, sounding an alarm if the child climbed out of the crib. Such minirobots could also move around the house at night, eating dirt and generally cleaning up. In effect, the dust would turn the entire environment into an almost invisible robot, constantly on alert. Even smaller robots may someday be injected into the body, to fight cancer, for instance, or to clear arteries of clots or plaque.

Moral Questions

The robot world of the future excites some people but may frighten others. For still others, it raises an important question. Suppose the scientists are right and robots develop the intelligence and emotions that humans have. Does that mean they should have the fights of humans?

Way back in 1923, Karel Cepek, in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), addressed this question. In the play’s third act, the robot slaves, led by a robot named Radius, revolt and kill their human masters. Helena, one of the last surviving humans, is saddened that the robots’ intelligence has led to conflict, not cooperation. She talks to Radius:

Helena: Doctor Gall gave you a larger brain than the rest, larger than ours, the largest in the world. You are not like the other robots, Radius. You understand me perfectly.

Radius: I don’t want any master. I know everything for myself.


“Kill all humans! Kill all humans!”

In an episode of FOX’s animated comedy Futurama, Bender the robot, at right, starts repeatedly shouting those words in its sleep. Of course, it makes Bender’s human pal, Fry, just a little bit nervous.

Bender’s unconscious desire makes viewers laugh, but in many legends, stories, books, and movies, robots have been anything but characters to laugh at. They have more often been portrayed as murderous, destructive machines–monsters driven mad by their inability to feel or to think like their human creators. Why is that so? Is it because we humans are both amazed and terrified at the thought that we–like God–might be able to create thinking, feeling creatures?

One of the earliest robot legends is the 400-year-old story of the golem, an artificial man made from clay by Rabbi Loew of Prague (now the capital of the Czech Republic). The rabbi supposedly built the golem–a creature that didn’t eat or drink or demand money to do a job–to be a per: feet servant and tireless worker so human workers would not have to work so hard. But after the golem came to life and started working, the rabbi noticed that the golem felt bad at not being like the human workers. So the rabbi taught the golem how to eat, then how to read. That was a mistake. After it learned how to read, the golem realized that it could never become fully human. At first it was saddened, then a great anger arose within it. It ran away, never to be seen again.

In the early 1900s, when movies were becoming popular, monster robots were all the rage. In one early movie, The Doll’s Revenge(1907), animated dolls variously attack furniture and humans. In The Tin Man (1935), a robot is ordered to destroy all women. In The Mysterious Dr. Satan (1940), an army of evil robots tries to conquer the world. In the 1938 radio drama War of the Worlds, giant robots from Mars lands in New Jersey and are destroy everything in their path with super flame-throwing weapons. Millions who heard the radio play on October 30 believed it to be an actual Martian invasion.

In recent years, however, some movies have shown robots in a more positive light. In the popular movie Forbidden Planet (1956), Robby the Robot is a good guy, even though he looks much like a walking potbellied stove with bright whirling lights in his transparent head. Friendly robots became even more common in the 1970s and 1980s with the advent of CP30 and R2-D2 of Star Wars fame.

Are robots becoming friendlier because we ourselves may now be more comfortable with modern technology?

CONSIDER THIS … If future robots eventually are given the intelligence and at least some of the emotions of humans, should they be granted the same rights as humans?

COPYRIGHT 2001 Weekly Reader Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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