I care not at all for cuddly robots. Moving motors disguised by layers of foam and fur. A robot is a robot, and once you realize that, it’s not a whit more comforting than a foam pillow of the same shape and size. Moving motors does not make pile of clothes into a butler or a sex doll into a sex-bot.
I realize that for now, Furby toys and Elmo dolls that can “Shout” are still toys, and you know, they’re sold as toys. Toys are fun, but they’re still toys.
Roomba vaccuming robots and lawnmowers that can cut your yard are certainly crossover items. Crossover in the sense that they indeed can do a job, essentially replacing a human who would otherwise do the work, but they can’t really judge well if there is an obstacle in the way. They follow a path, and hopefully there’s no naked toes to run over. These crossover robotic tools follow such a set pattern that programming them to say, cut your neighbor’s house or clean up just the one spill of breakfast cereal on one spot on your kitchen floor is simply impractical.
In short, the labor can be replaced, but not the intelligence behind it.
This has now changed.
This past weekend an event was held, a challenge for robotics science.
In essence, the challenge was to build a autonomous taxi.
The challenge was hosted by the evil people that create all sorts of evil things, like the internet(s).
DARPA hosted this challenge last year (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or as I like to call them: SkyNet Jr.), with all of the contestants failing wonderously. This year, three entries from two teams finished the challenge in the alloted time. It was a great race across the desert, through tunnels, around obstacles, and basically all the good things a robot brain can do, and none of the bad taking-over-the-world parts.
The winner was an converted Volkswagen Touareg, named “Stanley” (double reference here. The University in support of Stanley was STANFORD, and of course, the first really fun hi-tech automobile was the Stanley Steamer.
The prize money was doubled to $2million after last year’s contest when nobody got farther than eight miles from the starting line. The team whose car went the farthest last year came in second and third. That team, RedTeamRacing, is based out of Carnegie Mellon University. They used modified Humvees. The team that came in fourth (“Kat-5” was a modified Ford Escape Hybrid) is based out of Metarie, Louisiana. They lost about a week of practice and several team members lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.
These are the robotics that should be applauded. I realize what the government is going to do with the knowledge gleaned from this. Eventually, vehicles of war are going to be driven robotically, and so yes, technically this race was to help create a war machine with fewer humans, depersonalizing death — more so than it is today. But that’s the risk we run into every time a new piece of technology comes along.
They’re just tools. I don’t want to teach them to dance, or fetch my soda.
I want them to go where no man has gone before. And then phone home.