Robots: Fantasy, and Reality – Michael Chen

The notion of mechanical entities capable of intelligent thought and action is not new by any means.  Originally presented in Karel Capek’s “Rossum’s Universal Robots” in the 1920’s, robots have since been a popular subject in literature and movies, with notable appearances being Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, which we watched segments of in class, “Star Wars”, “Artificial Intelligence”, and “I, Robot”, to name a few.  Many, but not all, of these films address the idea that robots can develop human-like qualities and “feel” emotions, so to speak.  This idea of machines that feel has made for great fantasy, and continues to do so even today.

Reality, however, is not nearly as exciting.  Aside from the various technology demos by Sony and Honda featuring robots that mimic the movements of human beings, and the animals (Sony AIBO dog), most robots today are service-oriented machines which repeat mundane tasks over and over to save human labor in the realm of manufacturing.  Industrial robots build many things requiring precision and/or strength not easily attained by human beings.  Tasks are pre-defined, automated, repetitive, and not remotely related to the fantastic robots found in literature, film, and other forms of entertainment.  Well, there are those robot vacuum things but they don’t count as their only claim to awareness is the ability to avoid obstacles on a somewhat regular basis.


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