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Monday, August 16, 2010

Planning the Robot Uprising

What: Robots!

Who invented them: Evil masterminds bent on world domination? Car manufacturers? Geeks at MIT Cornell??? All of the above, but the word was first introduced by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his 1920 novel. Their first appearance in film was 1927.

Early mythologies had robot-like creatures, metal or stone people that obeyed orders (or married you in the case of Pygmalion). The idea of inanimate objects becoming human copies has intrigued humanity since we developed the concept of Us and Them.

What does a robot do?
What do you want it to do? The whole idea behind a robot is that it a machine programmed to do what you want. The sky is the limit... no, wait, the sky isn't even close to the limit! The possibilities are endless if you know some basic programming skills and can solder metal.

Why do I bring this up? Because every now and then Real Life catches up with fiction and authors everywhere feel the need to beat tech geeks over the head with a copy of Asimov's I, Robot.

In this case, some fabulous people over at Cornell University have created a robot that is self-repairing.

Wait. Let it sink in...

Yes.

Self-repairing robots. I saw that Stargate episode! It doesn't end well.

The underlying algorithm, the researchers said, could be applied to much more complex machines and also could allow robots to adapt to changes in environment and repair themselves by replacing parts. The work also could have other applications in computing and could lead to better understanding of animal cognition. In a way, Bongard said, the robot is "conscious" on a primitive level, because it thinks to itself, "What would happen if I do this?"
I think it's cute that they say this as if it's a Good Thing.

While all of you Evil Authors run off to write some science fact into your science fiction (and google How To Build a Robot) I'm going to go mail a copy of the Three Laws of Robotics off to Cornell. Just in case they haven't realized how this could all go seriously wrong.

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