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Robots in the Media

June, 2014

There's been a few developments lately in the world of robots and we thought share some here.

Humanoid robots are so widespread in movies and TV series (think of the Androids of Doctor Who fame). Such robots aren't only limited to movies and television series, though. They actually exist (well, sort of). For instance, Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son has recently announced the design of a new humanoid robot that is capable of detecting and - to an extent - understanding human emotions. This beast of a machine (well, it's only 4 feet tall, actually) has sophisticated voice-recognition technology, touch sensors, and bump sensors. Additionally, by using expression-recognition tech, it can interpret emotions of the people around it. Oh, and it can also access the internet, which is pretty neat considering that you just might want a companion robot to also act as a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. Finally, this robot can also sing, perhaps paving the way for robots that are capable of gently lulling you to sleep. Whether that is a creepy thought or a grand triumph of technology we will leave to the reader to decide.

Another humanoid Japanese robot has also been in the news lately. Called “Asimo,” this robot (developed by Honda) is like any other robot you've encountered, except that it can sort of play football/soccer with the President of the United States. And it can recognize postures, faces, voices, and so on, giving it the technological ability to engage with humans on an unnervingly human-like level. That means that Asimo can tell when you're offering to shake its hand, or when you are waving goodbye. That's pretty good, actually, and while it's obviously not nearly as complex as a human, that day is swiftly approaching.
While we're on the subject of human-like robots, perhaps it would be a good idea to briefly discuss a recent chatbot (hey, it's a robot that's housed in a computer body) that received widespread acclaim in multiple news outlets. Why? Because it's rumored to have passed the famous Turing Test, which stipulates that an A.I. system is capable of thought if it can successfully fool a judge in a two-way conversation. An A.I. chatbot, named Eugene Goostman, pretended to be a 13-year-old boy from the Ukraine and successfully managed to fool a third of a panel of judges into thinking that it was a human. Now, there's been a lot of flak about this from the A.I. community, with many experts arguing that roboboy Eugene Goostman didn't really pass the Turing Test. Whatever the final consensus on this turns out to be, the fact remains that robots and the programming behind their speech is becoming increasingly advanced. It's probably only a matter of time before robots are able to perfectly mimic and understand human emotions and speech that everyone will want to have a pet robot to keep them happy when all of their friends are out of town.

What are some other robots that are getting noticed in the media? There's MIT's new printable robot that's pretty fascinating since it'd potentially be something anyone could tap into once it gained wide popularity. Simply put, researchers at MIT's Computer Science labs have managed to come up with a small, 3D-printable robot that folds into the proper shape when it is sufficiently heated. Of course, it also has all the necessary parts that enable it to move and do other robot things (like take commands, and so on). Why is this interesting? Well, in theory, anyone with access to a 3D printer could readily print out an army of these robots, effectively putting robot manufacture into the hands of the masses. It's sort of like open-source software, but in this case, the open-source comes in the form of robot hardware. It also means that the CAD files could be modified by anyone, so a fully customized robot could be built. How fantastic is that?

To wrap this whole discussion up, let's briefly move onto the subject of robots in space. Space exploration is something that continues to capture the imagination of people everywhere, perhaps because the dream of colonizing the final frontier is within our grasp. This futuristic vision is often enhanced by the idea that robots will play a fundamental role - and they almost certainly will. To that end, NASA has recently been working on what they term a “Robonaut” - robots that will someday be able to do many of the tasks human astronauts currently do. The plan is for these robonauts to assist astronauts with various chores, whether it's checking the outer hull of a space station or exploring the surface of a heavenly body. What's more, NASA has also been researching ways to make these robonauts capable of offering medical aid when necessary, adding to the safety of space exploration.

These are just a few examples of robots in the media, but hopefully they'll offer you a glimpse into the tantalizing possibilities robots offer for our future.