News Brief: Robots Get Real in National Geographic
"Robots Get Real," an article in the August 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, considers how robots and humans will increasingly interact in the not-so-distant future. The article by Chris Carroll discusses Robotics Institute projects, including the Home Exploring Robotic Butler (HERB) and Snackbot, and the Entertainment Technology Center's efforts to make a Japanese robot, an Actroid android called Yume, more human-like.
Here's an excerpt:
The Actroid androids are part of a new generation of robots, artificial beings designed to function not as programmed industrial machines but as increasingly autonomous agents capable of taking on roles in our homes, schools, and offices previously carried out only by humans. The foot soldiers of this vanguard are the Roomba vacuums that scuttle about cleaning our carpets and the cuddly electronic pets that sit up and roll over on command but never make a mess on the rug. More sophisticated bots may soon be available that cook for us, fold the laundry, even babysit our children or tend to our elderly parents, while we watch and assist from a computer miles away.
"In five or ten years robots will routinely be functioning in human environments," says Reid Simmons, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon.
Such a prospect leads to a cascade of questions. How much everyday human function do we want to outsource to machines? What should they look like? Do we want androids like Yume puttering about in our kitchens, or would a mechanical arm tethered to the backsplash do the job better, without creeping us out? How will the robot revolution change the way we relate to each other? A cuddly robotic baby seal developed in Japan to amuse seniors in eldercare centers has drawn charges that it could cut them off from other people. Similar fears have been voiced about future babysitting robots. And of course there are the halting attempts to create ever willing romantic androids. Last year a New Jersey company introduced a talking, touch-sensitive robot "companion," raising the possibility of another kind of human disconnect.
In short: Are we ready for them? Are they ready for us?
Pictured above is HERB, ©Max Aguilera-Hellweg/National Geographic (hi-res version), and the cover of the August 2011 issue of National Geographic.