(neato! – promoted by buhdydharma )

What do we know about robots?

Well, generally they are powered by either beer, the hopes and dreams of their captive humans or a desire to kill/help Sarah Connor.

They come in peace.  

Or to destroy us.

The only language they understand is binary.

If you hear a robot proclaim:

01001100 01101111 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101100 01101001 01110110 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110010 01100101 01110011 01101001 01110011 01110100 01100001 01101110 01100011 01100101 00100001

Respond with:

01010010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100 00100001 00100000 00100000 01001001 00100000 01100001 01101101 00100000 01101111 01101110 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01110011 01101001 01100100 01100101 00101110

Surely this will prevent your new robot overlords from killing you and ensure your spot on the newly formed Human Council.

Oh wait……

wrong blog.

Sorry, let me start again.

So what role to robots really play in our future?

Well, so far we know that humans are trying to communicate with robots through dance.

And that the robots are trying to communicate with humans through dance.

Sometimes we dance together with the help of computers and magic.

Robots are being “taught” to mimic and understand humans while humans try to interact with and understand robots.

The most impressive development in my mind is a robot that can understand humor.  

Although to our credit it only really understands at the level of knock knock jokes and it’s “favorite” joke is:

Mother to boy: “Johnny, you’ve been working in the garden a lot this summer.”

Boy: “I know. My teacher told me to weed a lot.”


Robots won’t be stand up comedians any time soon, but the mere fact that this has been developed is astounding.

“Notice that the boy says the teacher told him to WEED. Since ‘weed’ sounds similar to ‘read,’ the program can find this wordplay,” Taylor says.

Taylor’s task was to “train” the computer with information relative to American English at a child’s level.

“The ability to appreciate humor is an enormous increment in subtlety,” says Professor Tom Mantei, a fellow researcher in UC’s College of Engineering. “You need to know a lot to ‘get’ humor – a computer does not find it easy.”

The advancements in artificial intelligence and the mathematical algorithms associated with developments such as these are more philosophical in nature, and some have been around for quite a long time.

Turing machines are extremely basic abstract symbol-manipulating devices which, despite their simplicity, can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer that could possibly be constructed.

They were described in 1936 by Alan Turing.

Though they were intended to be technically feasible, Turing machines were not meant to be a practical computing technology, but a thought experiment about the limits of mechanical computation; thus they were not actually constructed. Studying their abstract properties yields many insights into computer science and complexity theory.

In regards to artificial intelligence, the Turing test was proposed in 1950.  It is still being discussed to this day.

The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine’s capability to demonstrate intelligence.

Described by Alan Turing in the 1950 paper “Computing machinery and intelligence,” it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which try to appear human; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test.

In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of the machine instead of its ability to render words into audio), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel such as a teletype machine as Turing suggested or, more recently, IRC or instant messaging.

* If you’re interested, the Oracle and the Architect in The Matrix are basically personifications of Alan Turing’s machine.  The Oracle would be the Oracle machine, and the Architect would be the Turing machine itself.

In a recent study it was found that children will treat robots as a peer, rather than a toy.

Scientists conducted 45 study sessions with the robot over five months. By the end of the study the children were treating the robot like a friend rather than a toy.

Some children cried when the robot fell over and tried helping it to stand up, even when told by their teachers to leave it alone. Others covered it with a blanket and said “night-night” when it lay down to sleep…  

I’m not at all surprised by the results of this study, but it does illustrate the state we are in regarding robots integrating into society.  Right now the programs respond and interact at a very elementary level, and the ones most accepting of this reality are children.  

I guess the next step up would be teenagers (hopefully it’s nothing like my halcyon days or we are in some deep shit….)

There is a really great special from CNN’s Future Summit that has a wide panel of experts discussing the social, economical and philosophical implications of integrating robots into human society.

Anthropologist Daniela Cerqui’s views on the future of robotics in the panel discussion were very interesting.  

She also points out that in a way humans are the only species to be actively working on their own extinction.

I’m not sure if I would use the term “extinction”.  I prefer evolution.  

In either case we are essentially playing God in our desire to understand the complexities of life through science.  

Science is often viewed as the opposite of religion.  I’ve personally never been able to separate the two.  It’s the same search, you’re just traveling on different paths to get there.

I guess I chose the science path when I found out as a kid (incidentally during a church service about the creation) that believing in the Bible and accepting dinosaurs as real were not mutually exclusive.  I knew dinosaurs were real.  My parents even agreed.

And right there in the middle of a church I lost my faith.  It all seemed so empty.  I found no joy in singing the next hymn.  It was a sad day for me looking back at it.  

It had been so comforting to know that someone had all the answers, even if I would never know them while on this Earth.

I’ve always enjoyed Einstein’s views on religion and science even though I tend to lean to the more spiritual side. (Then again, he didn’t particularly like quantum physics because of his religious views and on some level I share his concerns)  

“It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the ‘merely personal,’ from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings.

Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking.

The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit”.

I had a friend recently ask my opinion on why God did not kill Adam and Eve for eating the apple in the Garden of Eden, like he promised he would.  They disobeyed his supreme command despite the knowledge of death and were allowed to live.

Maybe he was testing whether his creation had free will.

Turns out they did, so the world was adjusted accordingly.

God created man in his image.  We are creating robots in our image.

One day maybe it will be necessary to test our own creation’s free will.

The philosophy is gone from the academic teaching of science (if it was ever really there to begin with) and I can not understand why.  I’m still very surprised that ethics and philosophy classes are not required for a degree.  It seems like important topics to cover considering the implications.

Nuclear bombs were discovered before nuclear reactors.

A series of chain reactions causing huge explosions?

Not impressive.

Controlling that explosion and harnessing it’s energy.


Yeah…an ethics class would have been nice….

On a side note if in the future you ever have to fight a robot you can always use your human powers and ask this simple question:

How come?


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  1. have enough programed humans running around now we got to deal with machine ones. So someday soon when I take to shouting fuck you to the machines that call me, direct me to oblivion when trying to talk to my bank or water Dept, I will hurt their feelings? Good on, will be more satisfying to my outrage at being given the run around or sold stuff I don’t want. Will they organize and unionize for wages?  

    • nocatz on November 14, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    (with a bow to pico)

    The Robots plead with the last surviving  

    human to teach them how to reproduce.

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

    • nocatz on November 14, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Gibson will launch 4,000 limited edition, blue silverburst Les Gibson Robot Guitars around the world on December 7 at a price in the region of $2,500.

    Les Gibson?

  2. to continue the chip frying electro-magnetic pulse weapon research!

    • OPOL on November 15, 2007 at 12:18 am

    This brillant piece of work blew me away.  Thanks so much.

    So many things to compliment here but this I think is a precious jewel:

    Science is often viewed as the opposite of religion.  I’ve personally never been able to separate the two.  It’s the same search, you’re just traveling on different paths to get there.

    I totally agree.  

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          my computer got into the catnip again

    • Edger on November 15, 2007 at 9:29 am

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