Monday, February 21, 2011

Robot Brains and Techno Fiction

by Julia Buckley

Fiction writers have always had a fascination with robots, computerized villains, futuristic possibilities. It's not just the world of science fiction that explores tales of robots gone wrong or computers who take over; many a fine suspense tale has explored similar territory.

But in real life, we are continually proving that some of these stories aren't necessarily fiction. Take, for example, the recent triumph of Watson, the IBM robot who beat the two human geniuses on JEOPARDY. The previous champs looked like miniscule intellects next to Watson's stored knowledge, which allowed him to dominate the competition. (In case you didn't notice him, he's the third one from the left).

Technology is moving so rapidly beyond the average person's ken that it is potentially frightening; yet when we hear of some great new innovation that's for sale, we tend to blandly accept it--maybe even to put it on our wishlist.

I think a lot about computer technology, not because I understand it, but because I wonder where it will take us in twenty years, fifty years. And where will it take our children?

If Ian Fleming or Isaac Asimov were alive today, I think they'd be fans of this website. It updates the world on all things robotic, including the latest in humanoid androids. (Click on "World's Greatest Android Projects")

My favorite is the New Asimo, who looks a bit like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon--except that on the website he is having breakfast with his--what's the term? Owner? Host? Fleshly companion?

Honda's new android can walk, run, hold your hand, even bring you drinks on a tray. He/She weighs about 119 pounds.

I wonder if the future will bring the sort of social isolation that will make us want to hold hands with our robots. And yet, despite my misgivings about what effect robots will have on the future (I Robot, anyone?), I must admit that if there were ever an affordable robot that would clean my house, I would wait in line overnight to get it. And someday when I'm suffering from empty nest syndrome, maybe Asimo and I can get in shape together.

But the World's Greatest Android Projects looks like a Science Fiction dream come true. And now that it's true, what will it mean?

Photo link here.


Sandra Parshall said...

I'd like to have a programmable robot that could file papers for me, deciding what should be kept, what should go, what goes where. Nothing is more time-consuming or mind-numbing. I'd rather mop the kitchen floor and leave the filing to an android!

jjbflash said...

And yet I'd always worry that it was missing something--I'm too type A, I think. I'd probably go back in and check the robot's filing, and that would defeat the purpose. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Oops--I just commented under my husband's e-mail. Sorry. :)