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Immigrants From the Future


Robots intrigue both designers and enthusiasts in ways that provide novel insight into what people desire from technology.

Credit: The Economist

Robots intrigue both designers and enthusiasts in a way that goes beyond the technology's current practical applications, and this offers novel insight into what people desire from technology.

Many robots that participate in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Robotics Challenge (DRC) are designed as humanoids because they must function in a setting that is shaped to human specifications. In addition, real-world robots continue to be influenced by expectations cultivated and continuously fostered by science fiction.

However, actual robot technologies still fall short of their fictional counterparts, and most of the capabilities the founders of the artificial intelligence field envisioned--generalized intelligence, comprehension, planning, etc.--have not been realized. For example, giving robots the ability to walk moderately well has been a decades-long effort entailing a massive amount of funding. Many of the most advanced robots in the DRC also are tele-operated with human monitors.

Meanwhile, Google's recent acquisition of a large stable of robot engineering talent and intellectual property sends a message that at least one major, innovative company has faith in the field's future prospects. Most robots are perceived as extensions of rather than substitutes for humans, and meeting the challenge of making robots able to work with humans requires them to become socially humanoid.

From The Economist
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