Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I, Robot

I, Robot

As loyal readers (and my wife) know, I'm somewhat obsessed with robots. I'm convinced that artificial intelligence represents one of the greatest threats and opportunities for mankind. Watching the Will Smith film, "I, Robot" last night just reinforced this belief.

So when I ran across not one, but two robot stories in my RSS aggregator this morning, hard on the heels of watching the movie last night, I knew it was a sign. Of what, that I don't know.

The first article is a profile of iRobot Corp founder Helen Greiner, an MIT grad who has now sold over 1 million Roomba household robots, along with $50 million worth of military robots.

Here's what the article had to say on the subject of arming robots:

"Greiner stresses the PackBot's defensive role, but technologies that iRobot and other defense contractors are developing are expected to lead to front-line robots -- from unarmed reconnaissance rovers that lead soldiers into buildings and help direct gunfire, to armed and autonomous robots that do the shooting themselves.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense consulting group in Alexandria, Virginia, says he expects robots to be highly effective battlefield killers by the end of the next decade.
Such prospects have raised ethics concerns, and run counter to a robots-should-not-harm-humans principle that classic science fiction author Isaac Asimov outlined in his 1950 anthology, "I, Robot" -- the namesake of Greiner's company.

For her part, Greiner has said she doesn't believe robots should be empowered to decide on their own whether to take a human life.

None of iRobot's current military robots have autonomous capabilities; all are directly controlled by humans. And while iRobot is developing the PackBot's abilities to carry payloads -- including the possibility of transporting weapons -- none of the company's current robots is armed."

To quote Han Solo, "I've got a bad feeling about this." It's only a matter of time--the logic of arming robots to avoid risking the lives of our soldiers is just too compelling.

On the other side of the ledger, I ran across another story about a CMU professor that is developing a swallowable robot which will allow doctors to better explore and diagnose problems with patients' GI tracts.

I continue to contend that mankind's ultimate future lies in being able to upload our consciousness into electronic form, so that our hardware no longer holds back our software.

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