Article by Chris Price | 766 words
At times, I find it amusing to explore the progress made in artificial intelligence, such as robotic technology. You see, every leap forward is accompanied by an unwieldy crowd of tinfoil hat-wearing dissidents. Dissidents who, unfortunately, are prone to hysteria when they hear about robots thanks to their sci-fi media intake.
Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece? These were rhetorical questions voiced by Will Smith’s character in his 2004 apocalyptic robot invasion-themed film, which, among other things, questioned our more traditional perceptions of technology’s limitations.
The answer to those two questions, in light of the physical, tangible hardware being developed in 2014, is yes. And throughout this piece, I hope to quell whatever burning contention the reader may have against artificial intelligence, as well as shed light on a few gadgets that are often restricted to trade magazines and software developer blogs.
The World’s First Family Robot
JIBO, the “friendly, helpful and intelligent” social bot developed by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal’s robotics team, has become the face of today’s “home robot,” and it’s not even on the market yet. More than 4,800 of the bots have been pre-ordered with an expected delivery date in December of 2015. JIBO holds the spot as the most successful technology campaign on Indiegogo, the world’s largest global fundraising site.
It’s most emphasized feature in several JIBO advertisements seems to be its (or his) ability to fluidly and clearly converse, a characteristic lacking in even Apple’s SIRI, which is often considered the pinnacle of human-technology communication software. It’s not necessarily capable of being an all-out companion to your average Theodore Twombly (the main character of Her), but it can do things like welcome you when you enter your house, set your schedule and read bedtime stories to your four-year-old. Plus, as a voice recognition and response system, it gives you the ability to use its installed video camera, alarm clock and calendar—as well as typical smartphone apps—without using your hands.
Its advertisements show JIBO taking photos at family events, ordering takeout and using its hands-free voice activation to check and return missed phone calls. But its greatest drawback is its immobility. That, and its potential to be utilized by a federal organization like the National Surveillance Agency (NSA) under the guise of a “counter-terrorism campaign.”
As its release date nears and the programming gets closer to its finishing stages, it’ll be up to us as consumers to decide whether this $500 gadget is helpful or frivolous.
The World’s Most Advanced Humanoid Robot
You’ve undoubtedly driven past some of Honda’s car products, but how familiar are you with their robots? Honda’s ASIMO—more personal and human-like than NASA’s Valkryie—has been getting some attention this year. Its ability to run, speak, jump and dance has given it preeminence in the robotics industry, as Telegraph.co.uk reports. But this category of robot is different from the previous JIBO because it is not designed for consumers.
ASIMO, an acronym for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, underwent initial development in 1986, according to Honda’s official website. Thanks to its constant upgrades, it has made appearances on the TV show Live! with Kelly and Michael and at Disneyland.
ASIMO is the closest thing we have to Jetsons-style robot technology. Unfortunately, due to its high price, there are currently no plans to release it to the general market. Knowledge of its existence is food for thought, though.
The Seeker and Destroyer
Google, the hegemon of public information collection sites, has had its eyes on robotics for quite some time. Google usually doesn’t develop hardware itself, but it has used its most abundant resource (that is, advertising revenue) to buy out several robotics companies to make hardware for it. Some of these include Bot & Dolly, Boston Dynamics and Schaft, according to the website Re/code.
The case of Google is much different than that of ASIMO or JIBO because it’s funding research and development for several different “breeds” of robots. One of the bots that has been getting a lot of attention is Boston Dynamics’s WildCat, which has a Star Wars-esque, predator-like design and function. Questions for its possible ground combat use have arisen, but Google has openly rejected military funding, as DefenseTech.org reports.
It’s not illogical to consider the possibility of robotic technology falling down a slippery slope, from family-oriented helpers to advancements in military weapons. However, we don’t have to worry about a cyborg like General Grievous trying to conquer humanity in a robot apocalypse—not in our lifetimes, anyway.
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