We all have different notions about what the future will be like, about what our world will be like. For some us, the Future will be signified by an ushering in of newer and better technology; whether it’s hover cars, molecule-sized computer, genetically engineered monstrosities or, in my case, robots.
For whatever reason, robots mean the Future for me. Robots fighting, robots flying, robots vacuuming the floor, robots fetching beers: that’s truly a sign that we’ve entered a new age. And not remote controlled robots either, but fully autonomous bots that are capable of learning and adapting to changes in the environment.
So I’m constantly scanning the news, looking for newer and better ‘bots. And by that, I don’t mean those terrifying monstrosities that the Japanese can’t get enough of. There is, apparently, no analogous term for “the uncanny valley” in Japanese.
I’m more interested in, say, the PR2. It learns to better do chores around the house. And look, it doesn’t have vaguely human features designed to send the user shrieking from the room. There’s also the blob-bot, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bot…that’s a blob. It moves through a complicated process that I can’t explain. Just watch the video.
But I think my interest (and the interest of many of the designers) goes deeper than just geeking out over cool tech. The idea of one of our creations being smart enough, flexible enough, human enough, to talk back to us is exciting. I believe that humanity has, in general, always been on the lonely side. Our stories are populated with creatures and beings with brains that match ours and walk alongside us. We keep pets and then anthropomorphize the shit out of them. We keep a constant eye on the stars in the hopes that somewhere out there, there is intelligent life. Hopefully benevolent (or at least morally ambivalent) and willing to talk to us.
With artificial intelligence, it’s just one more way we’re trying to find a companion who is Other and, at the same time, very familiar.