Monday, December 28, 2009

Robots Are Gradually Taking Over Many Human Tasks

In the previous post, the "Prometeus" video imagines the future of the Internet as an all-encompassing repository of information and experiences.  But will virtual reality completely supplant the physical world?  I don't think so.  Computers and networks need power, cooling, physical security and ongoing management.   Besides, we'll still be around, with our physical needs and desires.  On the other hand, as Internet media absorb and generate more and more of our information, robots are taking over many physical tasks.   But what is a robot, anyway?  Here are the relevant wiktionary definitions:
  1.  A mechanical or virtual, artificial agent
  2. An electro-mechanical system, which, by its appearance or movements, conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own
  3. A machine which is anthropomorphic or zoomorphic in shape or scope of function
As William Saletan writes in his New York Times book review of Michael Belfiore's "The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs",  the US Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA) is driving the creation of robots with human capabilities  In 2004-2007, DARPA sponsored a series of three Grand Challenge races for driverless trucks, resulting in the substantially improved performance in the second and third races, surpassing human performance in areas such as reaction time.

Robots are not only emulating our bodies, but are beginning to heal and complete them. DARPA is currently working on a surgical robot that could help wounded soldiers survive until they can reach a hospital, while some amputees are using experimental prosthetic limbs controlled by the signals of surgically re-routed nerves

Accelerating developments in artificial intelligence, upon which robotics depends for cognitive capabilities,  have caused some to consider the singularity, which is the technological creation of superhuman intelligence. The annual RoboCup robotic soccer seeks to transcend human capabilities with the following goal:
By mid-21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win the soccer game, complying with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup
The video shows selections from the 2009 RoboCup competition.  The humanoid finals at the end remind me of my days as an assistant Microsoccer coach when my daughter was in kindergarten.  Enjoy!

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