Friday, 2 December 2011

Robotville



Went to the Science Museum yesterday with my two boys, in order to meet some robots. It was hard to tell who was the most excited. Afterwards however, it was easy to tell who was the most disappointed.

It IS worth a visit, and all credit and respect to those devoting their time to pushing the technology forward, but, in finally getting to see some of this technology in the 'flesh', I was struck by how blind, dumb, clunky, inaccurate, rudimentary and generally limited these machine are. Robot uprising? Currently as likely as a government coup performed by spoons.

Not that I was hoping for one to alarm me, rather I was excited to experience some first-hand sophisticated interaction. Sadly it was more like time-travelling forward three years and finding yourself in Hamleys.



Also you can't touch any of them, which was frustrating as I was desperate to feel a particularly impressive, dexterous robotic hand. Instead, all interaction is demonstrated, or done fuzzily from a distance (as long as you are 'in range.') My two-year-old played ball with a one foot tall biped with a webcam for a brain. But when my son threw the pathetic inflated ball with mild vigour, sweat poured down the staff and the robot was whisked away and turned off. It couldn't cope with the one dog-trick it had been programmed to perform.

Obviously these robots are incredibly expensive, but they are also fucking flimsy. One thing the engineers will really need to address at some point is their creations' durability. Because if they do proceed to become the socially interactive assistants as planned, then they will have to withstand much more than a beachball on the nose, or bitter criticism from a middle-aged juvenile.

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