Excellent NY Times Article on Robotics and AI

A post on the Robots.net website caught our attention this morning and vectored us to a long, very well written New York Times article covering robots and robotics at MIT by Robin Marantz Henig.

While she covers the technical aspects well, Henig, a regular NY Times contributor who has written about evolutionary theories of religion, really digs into many of the more philosophical aspects of robotics research. And, the questions she poses, both explicitly and implied, are very thought provoking. A good example is the articles last paragraph - the 'punchline' :

"I want to understand what it is that makes living things living,"  Rodney Brooks told me. "At their core, robots are not so very different from living things. They're all mechanistic," Brooks said. "Humans are made up of biomolecules that interact according to the laws of physics and chemistry. We like to think we're in control, but we're not. We are all, human and humanoid alike, whether made of flesh or of metal, basically just sociable machines."

We're often struck by the observation that the Japanese tend to perceive robots as being human-like, or at least animate beings. Brooks' comment provides additional insight - and implies that some leading US robotics researchers also group robots with humans, only they do it by classifying both as basically "machines."

Both perspectives are valid, and obviously produce measurable results. Still, we have to wonder if that perceptual difference has some direct connection to the vastly different areas in robotics where the two countries and cultures each excel, and what that might imply for the future.


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