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?