Simple Question – Difficult Answer, or Perhaps No Answer

050129-balancing-robot
The question for today is, “What is a robot?” It’s a pretty simple, straight forward question – until you start to grapple with it for a while. It’s not as hard as, “What is the meaning of life?”, but it’s still difficult to come up with a meaningful answer.

As you develop definitions it’s always a good idea to test them. For example, if a robot is “an autonomous mechanism, with its own controller, that incorporates movement, and does useful work”, then your common everyday office elevator is a robot. Perhaps it is. . . . I don’t have a real problem with that, as long as the derived definition is useful and practical. I tend to be very pragmatic about things, includiing life in general.

What do people think a ‘robot’ is? CP3O? Ralph124C4U? Robbie the Robot? Does a robot even have to have a physical presence? Can it exist only as a pattern of electrons in the vast ether of the internet – ala agents in the Matrix?

Google has a very useful (at least usually useful) feature that allows you to do a search for word definitions. It returns links to webpages where people have attempted to define the word you’re interested in. For example, ask Google to “define:egg” and it returns these results, among others-

Definitions of egg on the Web:

animal reproductive body consisting of an ovum or embryo together with nutritive and protective envelopes; especially the thin-shelled reproductive body laid by e.g. female birds
www.cogsci.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/webwn

oval reproductive body of a fowl (especially a hen) used as food
www.cogsci.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/webwn

So, it might be a good idea to ask Google to “define:robot” and take a look at what the most common definitions turn out to be. Try it. I think you might be a little surprised – unless you’re a software developer. 


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