“Robo sapiens”

O brave new world! In the science section of The New York Times this week is a report on Atlas, a recently designed robot built for use by the Pentagon:

“People love the wizards in Harry Potter or ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but this is real,” said Gary Bradski, a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence specialist and a co-founder of Industrial Perception Inc., a company that is building a robot able to load and unload trucks. “A new species, Robo sapiens, are emerging,” he said.

The debut of Atlas on Thursday was a striking example of how computers are beginning to grow legs and move around in the physical world.

Although robotic planes already fill the air and self-driving cars are being tested on public roads, many specialists in robotics believe that the learning curve toward useful humanoid robots will be steep. Still, many see them fulfilling the needs of humans — and the dreams of science fiction lovers — sooner rather than later.

Walking on two legs, they have the potential to serve as department store guides, assist the elderly with daily tasks or carry out nuclear power plant rescue operations.

“Two weeks ago 19 brave firefighters lost their lives,” said Gill Pratt, a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon, which oversaw Atlas’s design and financing. “A number of us who are in the robotics field see these events in the news, and the thing that touches us very deeply is a single kind of feeling which is, can’t we do better?”

Robot firemen? Is this yet another sign that we are “blasting off” to a post-human future much quicker than we perhaps thought?

What, exactly, does it mean to be human anymore?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to “Robo sapiens”

  1. dust850 says:

    This makes me very nervous. Im not trying to be a Luddite but this is scary. U cant reason with a machine. What if its like Terminator and the machines rise against humanity. Robots are already taking our jobs now they want to enforce our laws lol. I know i sound like a robot racist or something.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      You raise the issue of law. The question I have is this: if the future is post-religious, and if law is no longer something grounded in some sort of absolute (such as belief in rights and roles given by God), whose laws will such robots in the future be enforcing? The laws declared by Chinese elites, or American elites, or democratic majorities? Or perhaps the laws of cyborg (human-robot) elites? Once we become “cyborged” and utterly fragmented into our parts as human beings, how do we put ourselves back together again? What becomes of the soul and free will and conscience and dignity–that is, of our humanity as traditionally conceived?

      • dust850 says:

        Those are interesting questions. I do not know what will become of the soul, free will and conscience. I do know that we have to start discussing these questions before it is too late.

    • Mikels Skele says:

      Oh, but you can reason with a machine. You can only reason with a machine. You can’t emote with one like you can with a human, which is why you often cannot reason with humans.

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