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Robots and Us

The integration of robotic assistants into modern society has progressed much slower than perhaps Isaac Asimov or Stanley Kubrick had imagined.

And yet, in many ways, we have evolved far beyond the original assessments of robotic usefulness.

When Asimov penned I, Robot, he envisioned a world in which robots become self-aware and attempt the extermination of their human creators.

Fortunately, that scenario is highly unlikely, if not downright ludicrous. While it’s true that some researchers are attempting to create robots with evolved brain capabilities, scientists have all but counted out the possibility of a robotic uprising anytime in the future.

That being said, human innovation in the field of robotics is vastly growing, and we may be less than a decade from traveling down to the local automaton shop to pick up the latest commercial model. New technologies will one day combine with robot mechanics to develop a near-perfect human companion with a multitude of useful functions.

Perhaps the most famously renowned advanced cyborg is ASIMO, created by Honda Motor Company in early 2000. It’s been demonstrated across the globe, with countless videos of the robot running, walking, dancing, and playing soccer. While it isn’t the most interactive bot on the market, ASIMO represents a breakthrough in mimicking human anatomy and physics.

On the side of marketable robots for consumers, Aldebaran Robotics has unveiled their NAO robot, the programmable humanoid cyborg. It stands at 57cm tall, with 25 degrees of freedom, a 1.6GHZ processor, and a 6-watt battery for up to 1.5hrs of runtime. NAO operates on a modified variant of Linux, and allows developers to customize the bot to their specifications.

The NAO is mainly for education centers and developers, but if you want to join the fun, expect to pay $10,000-$15,000 for a unit. Aldebaran is still developing the NAO robot, and haven’t offered it as a mass-produced product just yet. But they hope to retail the machine in the near future, with advanced models and lower prices.

Society has long dreamt of inventing competent human counterparts for assistance in daily capacities. Each year we move a bit closer to that reality, with some projects more ambitious than others. Yet, while we may covet the day we can finally run around with a Star Wars-type cyborg, the truth is painfully less glamorous than fiction.

It might be years until scientists invent anything remotely capable of being considered “human”. And even then it may have a difficult time integrating into society. The Frankenstein Complex, named after the fictional character in the book Frankenstein, is an irrational fear of robots. It has so far stalled the worldwide advancement of robotic technology, and may re-emerge if humanoid cyborgs become functioning members of society.

This is why it’s critical that increased education be generated in the field of robotics, to ease concerns over future “robot revolutions”.

In reality, automatons have and will become important contributors in many industries of science, from healthcare to education. And while perhaps we don’t see it yet, robots can help us reform ourselves. If we allow these complex machines to takeover the more menial labor jobs, it will free us to focus on deeper thinking, as well as place a stronger interest in arts and design.

Society will evolve to a place we have not yet conceived of, and we may discover a new reality of human achievement.

USA Today – http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/robotics/2007-05-31-robotslowacceptance_N.htm


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