Monday, March 28, 2011

We, Robot: Skywalker's Hand, Blade Runners, Iron Man, Slutbots and How Fiction Became Fact / by Mark Stephen Meadows

So it seems that we're not that far from an all out war between humans and robots. For author, inventor and all-around robot lover Mark Stephen Meadows, this is not a question of if, but when. "It's as if we're building a new slave class", he says in his introduction to a book which can't help but attract the inner tech junkie in everyone. Meadows tempers his excitement in the follow-up passages, admitting that he doesn't actually know what will happen, "they are just my own science fictions" (p.9). What he is 100% certain of is that we will all be affected by robots. Automation itself and artifictial intelligence can already be seen everywhere. Governments and militaries the world over have already instituted automated weaponry and aircrcaft and at the moment the U.S. Defense Department has introduced the BigDog, a wildebeest-resembling quadruped robot, with highly sophisticated sensory perception, that is well into the test phase. You can see it in action here.

So just how close to becoming reality are our favorite science fiction robots? And what might be the real-life consequences of their existence? Actually we're not that far off, depending on our own willingness to substitute technology for human capability. The book, well-stocked with glossy photos and images and enhanced by the author's own giddy sense of childlike wonder, takes a look at some of the more intriguing developments as the author sets off across the globe to find cutting-edge robotics and automated technology in places like France, Japan and New Zealand. In Japan, human replicas and androids are on their way as is the case with Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro of Kyoto, whose self-resembling and self-imitating android, called Geminoid, contains sensory neurons which mirror the doctor's movements precisely. Here in the United States where robot maids, not unlike Rosie off The Jetsons, are being fiddled with and actual robot companions are already on the market, the excitement is building.  What will we see in the coming decade? Everything from Terminator-esque hybrid drones to automated assisted living robots and modules for helping the disabled. Even though the author is infatuated with his subject to the point of sensationalizing his overall topic, the We, Robot is great fun, showing how science fiction, technology and ethical components of humanity are all integrated as the next phase of innovation gets in gear. (791.43656 MEADOWS)

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