There has been some noise in consumer publications lately about the potential for robots to take over the world. And all the noise isn't coming from crazies.
Bill Joy, chief scientist and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote in a recent issue of Wired magazine of his concern that robots will soon take over the human race. He writes that by 2030 there could be machines a million times more powerful than today's PCs-and that it's possible that an intelligent robot could make a copy of itself.
Likewise, Paul MacCready, the father of human-powered flight and many other inventions, and 1999 Design News Special Achievement Award winner, has said that while the human mind is the most powerful force on Earth, the number of things humans can do that machines can't do is dwindling.
There are some very heavy technical and philosophical issues to grapple with in what Joy and MacCready say. Let's skip over those issues, though, and try to imagine how a robot who is as smart as we are might act.
For example, how about a robot programming a VCR. It would have to be a very young robot-no one over 25 seems to be able to do it efficiently.
Or, maybe a robot trying to change the TV channel with a remote control. It's hard enough for a human to see the dark channel numbers on the dark background of many remotes. Would it wear glasses or contacts?
Would a robot be able to make a call on a cell phone? Could it hit the right numbers-and would it remember to hit "send?"
Presumably, it could tell time. But, how would it strap on its watch?
Could it lick an ice cream cone on a hot July day without getting the drippings on its metallic fingers?
Would it hesitate on the choice of flavors, say between chocolate chip and banana cream royal?
Could it perform the Heimlich maneuver-and know when to stop?
Would it cheat on its golf score?
The more robots become like us, the more they'll have to face the same choices we do. And, the more mistakes they'll make. Forgive them. After all, they're only human.