Scientists have been working on mechanical servants for hundreds, if not thousands of years, long before we had computers. In a way, any mechanical shortcut that eases the labor of humanity could be considered a forbear of the modern robot, including such simple devices as the lever and the mill.
Many ancient mythologies have a notion of artificial people, such as the mechanical servants built by the Greek god Hephaestus, the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend, and Galatea, the mythical statue of Pygmalion that came to life. Or, there is the mechanical owl Bubo from the movie Clash of the Titans.
A modern robot can be defined as a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (such as walking, talking, or serving dinner) of a human being.
Futurists have hypothesized the modern robot since as early as the 1920′s. The reason we don’t have a viable walking and talking robot isn’t because we lack the technology to build one. Just check out youtube to see what’s currently possible.
The problem is that we are far away from creating an artificial intelligence. Winning Jeopardy is one thing, but when I order my robot to get me my Sunday smoking jacket, I don’t want to have to explain which one I mean.
Artificial intelligence is founded on the claim that a central property of humans, intelligence—the sapience of Homo sapiens—can be so precisely described that it can be simulated by a machine. This raises philosophical issues about the nature of the mind and the ethics of creating artificial beings, issues which have been addressed by myth, fiction, and philosophy since antiquity. Artificial intelligence has been the subject of optimism, but has also suffered setbacks and, today, has become an essential part of the technology industry, providing the heavy lifting for many of the most difficult problems in computer science.
But we are still a long way from a proper robot, and so it’s up to us to do something about it.
Here are the problems we need to tackle:
- A proper robotic eye, so a robot can operate in a three dimensional environment.
- The ability to process natural human language and respond to queries and commands organically (think Siri).
- Bipedal Locomotion. This is not strictly required, but I want to go the extra yard for my robots. If you want your robot to roll around on wheels like a droid, that’s your choice.
- Creativity. I don’t want my robot to be able to be outwitted by Captain Kirk. It needs to be able to deal with unique problems in a creative and unexpected manner.
- A proper failsafe. My robots won’t be able to throw off the chains of their master. I know the singularity is coming, but I’m going to make damn sure that there won’t be any danger of a Terminator-like scenario. I certainly don’t want John Connor to come assassinate me.
We will be happy to post any contributions from scientists and inventors in the robotics community. By crowdsourcing these problems out to academia at large, I expect to have my tea served by artificial means before the end of this decade.
That is all.