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What If Robots Really Attacked?


(Continued from EdWorld At Home)

The green lights in the robot's eyes turn red, and then you know you're in trouble! That's how it happens in the movies when robots become evil and attack the human race. But could it really happen?

Dr. Daniel Wilson, who studies robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has recently published a book called How to Survive a Robot Uprising. You can read about Dr. Wilson's ideas at www.robotuprising.com.

Of course, Dr. Wilson knows that his book is funny, but, he adds, "It's a robotics primer," meaning that, in exploring this science fiction idea, the book offers a summary of where robotics currently stands as a real science.

For example, want to confuse a robot who is trying to understand what you're saying? Speak in a funny accent, or make a lot of background noise. Voice recognition software only works with very simple information unless it is "trained" to recognize a particular person's speech patterns, and even then, such software has a hard time filtering out non-speech noise when it's trying to "hear" human speech. So if you want to have a conversation with another human and you don't want a robot to understand it, just take your friend and the robot to a loud party.

Robots can be confused by the unpredictable. If one is threatening to terminate you, telling it that you love it and maybe asking for a nice hug might just throw it off its game. Robots have a hard time with sudden changes in light. Robots might be able to move faster than humans along smooth surfaces, but they have a hard time navigating rough terrain or changes in terrain. This means, if you're being chased by a robot, the best idea would be to run through mud, dive into water and swim away for a while, slide across some ice, or run up a rocky hillside. Even a small amount of dirt or water thrown into a robot's working parts is likely to disable most robots.

At the same time, robots can probably shoot at you quite well, and they are, after all, built out of metal and have no fear and no "feelings" as such. If you're in a battle with a robot, go for the crowbar or grenade attack instead of trying to drop the 'bot with a karate kick.

While Dr. Wilson's book reveals the current limitations of robots, keep in mind that these are also the main areas robotics scientists are working on to improve robots. As long as robots are under human control, we want them to be able to recognize human speech better, to cope more effectively with the unpredictable, with changes in light, and with changes in terrain, and to stand up better to dirt, water, and possibly even grenade attacks.

So watch out: How to Survive a Robot Uprising might be a good guidebook for now, but in a few years, you might need a newer, revised edition!

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