Robots aren’t what we expected

Would you say you constantly interact with robots? I would.

My oven knows how to turn itself off after a preset amount of time. That was arguably the first robotic invader to my household. True, The Terminator isn’t baking heart-shaped cookies for me (yet), but for now I have an excellent bread maker doing a great job. Robots are also doing my laundry, my dishes and even vacuuming my floor.

You might disagree of my free use of the term ‘robot’. If you think so, you might be thinking about the canonical cinematic robot: A completely autonomous machine capable of conversing with humans and performing a multitude of tasks. Another common notion depicts a robotic deity monitoring and improving one’s life (usually to ill consequence).

My Definition of Robot: A device that autonomously performs a task upon instruction.

It is not so different than the common view of a robot, the key difference being that it’s not black-and-white. A device could be said to be more robotic or less robotic by considering the complexity of the tasks and the ease of instructing it.

So, when I wrote at the beginning of this article that I am constantly interacting with robots, what I actually meant was that I was interacting with considerabley robotic devices where as most people think only of highly robotic devices such as Starwars’ C3PO, Fridgidaire’s Dream Kitchen of Tommorow (circa 1957) and many others. These highly robotic devices were expected to arrive in our time, “the age of computation”. They’re lingering.

I believe this minute observation in defining a robot is essential in understanding the future of robotics. While there are countless researchers trying to imitate the human mind, there is a more rewarding path of taking human life and gradually automating all mundane tasks within it. This gradual improvement not only helps our lives but also contributes to the long-term research in providing real-life tested algorithms for simulating human thought, and designing physical devices better suited for specialized tasks.

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Posted Thursday, December 17th, 2009 under Life 2.0.

One comment so far

  1. Funny thing about improving our lives: robots don’t free up our time.

    Once, when ironing and laundry was time consuming, you’d have one buttoned and ironed shirt for special occasions. Today, with robots making it easy, it is expected that you come to work with an ironed shirt EVERY DAY (OK, in some jobs and some countries more than in others).
    Time is just spent on other things, as standards are highers.

    This is not to say that it isn’t improvement. It’s just that we aren’t any closer to drinking pina coladas at the beach.

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