First published 6/5/11 on Kent Bottles MD: Private Views
On Saturday June 4, 2011 I took a Megabus from Philadelphia (one-way fare $8.00) to Hunter College in New York City to attend Man-Made Minds: Living With Thinking Machines, a World Science Festival program.
Rodney Brooks, who until recently was Panasonic Professor of Robotics at MIT and who now is Chief Technology Officer at Heartland Robotics, was the first expert to speak, and he emphasized a very practical approach that was not too concerned with any negative consequences of living with thinking machines. Brooks comes across as the typical, can do engineer who wants to revitalize American manufacturing by providing workers with robotic tools. For Brooks everything from ant behavior to robot behavior to human behavior comes down to simple rules and computation. I thought he did a nice job of explaining the concept of the “uncanny valley.” Although he did not mention Masahiro Mori who coined the term in 1970, Brooks discussed how the “uncanny valley” idea holds that when avatars look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual humans, humans respond negatively to the robot. The ” uncanny valley” is a dip in the graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley) Brooks also showed videos of Kismet and Domo that highlighted how important eye contact is for sociable humanoid robots. Here is an article where Aaron Edsinger, Domo’s developer, talks about how eyes are critical for human to robot interaction(http://www.livescience.com/1419-robot-eyes-humans-human-eyes.html). Here is a simple overview video of Brooks on robots (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9p8B7-5MTI), and Steve Talbott has a nice article on the Brooks approach to robotics here (http://www.southerncrossreview.org/43/talbott-hal.htm).
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