Author:Beasley, Sandra

Works in Progress


Robots are now performing a surprising range of tasks, from bombing targets in Iraq to mowing lawns, greeting visitors at a corporate headquarters, and folding origami. Lee Gutkind questions both the promise and peril of our increasing use of robotics in society. Gutkind, a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, is the founder and editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction. His new book Almost Human: Making Robots Think is based on six years of research at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute.

  1. Roboticists believe that humans will be more comfortable dealing with creatures physically similar to themselves. ASIMO, the amazing Honda robot that can dance and climb stairs, is four feet tall with arms, legs, fingers, and so forth. But ASIMO can be off-putting--all solid wire and plastic and aluminum; no warmth, no DNA. Should robots be designed in man's image, or as something completely different?

  2. If humanoid robots become integral to our daily lives, should they be expected to follow the laws and norms of human society, or should a new set of guidelines be drawn up especially for them? If so, what are the primary elements that need to be addressed to protect robots from humans and humans from robots?

  3. Robots are becoming nurse-bots and roboceptionists, jobs that have most often been performed by women. Many roboticists, the vast majority of whom are men, dismiss the danger of anthropomorphism yet frequently refer to their creations as "she." Should robots be gender-specific? Have they already been categorized?

  4. As robots become more pervasive in the workplace, what steps should be taken to preserve the livelihood of the human beings they replace? Should a vulnerable labor force be retrained in advance? Should protective legislation be passed?

  5. The 10th annual RoboCup soccer tournament will take place this July, with as many as 500 teams from more than 60 countries and universities participating. Teams composed of autonomous robots (no joysticks or remote controls) of wildly varying size will pass, kick, and shoot against each other according to official soccer rules. RoboCup's mission is to develop a robotic team that will play head-to-head with the World Cup soccer champs by the year 2050. Could the robots win? What's the next step--robohooligans?

  6. Can a great soccer team be reduced to quantifiable elements of speed, agility, and skill? Does such a team dominate because of these elements, or is there an unquantifiable...

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