Monday, June 3, 2013

I, For One, Welcome our New Robot Overlords

Remember when robots were these stiff, unresponsive automatons, that performed rudimentary, programmed tasks, and the thought of any higher intelligence response was the stuff of science fiction movies?  Well, that's all changed, and more quickly than we might have imagined.  Several breakthroughs and advances in robotics have made that science fiction movie pipe dream look a whole lot more like reality. Here are five really cool videos that illustrate how far we've come recently.

Robots can be controlled by human thoughts.  Through means of a brain-computer interface, a human is able to instruct the robot to complete tasks just by thinking.  We've recently seen robotic prostheses designed which reacted to human thought, via the surrounding muscle.  Now we're doing it from a computer interface wired directly to the brain.

Robots anticipate human actions and act accordingly.  They are no longer programmed to simply act, but are now learning to be reactionary, to "think" for themselves, based on a dynamic environment.  The ability to adjust to changing surroundings is key to real-world adaptations for robotics.

Current robotic technology is becoming better and faster than before.  Where just a few years ago, getting legged robot to walk was a major breakthrough, we're now setting speed records.  The faster a robot can travel, and the more agile it becomes, the better able it can function.  This guy ain't called "Cheetah" for nothing.

Robots are getting stronger and more agile.  Remember these guys, the "Big Dog," or "Alpha Dog" robots? The nightmare fuel I shared a while ago? Yea, I just thought you might like to revisit them, 'cause they're bad-ass beasts, and they're only getting better.  And there are more of them, too.  A whole army of them!

Robots are being taught intrinsic motivation, or artificial curiosity.  Similar to how children learn, robots are being trained via behavior reinforcement learning.  They learn by processing their environment into different types of behavioral modules, as seen through video cameras, and translating that into movement data.  This creates a usable representation of its environment, along with learned behavior associated with goal-oriented functions.

This may seem like the Terminator's Skynet to more than a few of you.  Hard to imagine otherwise staring down those big Alpha Dog robots coming at you at almost thirty miles an hour, especially when you imagine they've also melded reactive behavior and a usable translation of their environment to their skill sets.  To paraphrase that classic Simpson's line: I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.  And so should you.

Luckily, scientists are all working to create peaceful robots, of course, which is why we see advances like prosthetic limbs, and cute robot boxing toys.  The days where everyone is able to drum up the cash for a giant warrior dog robot are well in the future.  But one can always dream, right?


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