September 18, 2004
New book trashes humanoid robots

I say optimistic things about robots here from time to time, so here is some criticism of that approach to using computers.

Amazon quotes Publishers Weekly, re this book:

Hawkins designed the technical innovations that make handheld computers like the Palm Pilot ubiquitous. But he also has a lifelong passion for the mysteries of the brain, and he's convinced that artificial intelligence theorists are misguided in focusing on the limits of computational power rather than on the nature of human thought. He "pops the hood" of the neocortex and carefully articulates a theory of consciousness and intelligence that offers radical options for future researchers. "[T]he ability to make predictions about the future ... is the crux of intelligence," he argues. The predictions are based on accumulated memories, and Hawkins suggests that humanoid robotics, the attempt to build robots with humanlike bodies, will create machines that are more expensive and impractical than machines reproducing genuinely human-level processes such as complex-pattern analysis, which can be applied to speech recognition, weather analysis and smart cars. Hawkins presents his ideas, with help from New York Times science writer Blakeslee, in chatty, easy-to-grasp language that still respects the brain's technical complexity. He fully anticipates – even welcomes – the controversy he may provoke within the scientific community and admits that he might be wrong, even as he offers a checklist of potential discoveries that could prove him right. His engaging speculations are sure to win fans of authors like Steven Johnson and Daniel Dennett.

However, in my defence, I don't get excited about robots to educate because they will be super-intelligent. It's more that I surmise that they will make nice (and very cheap and parent-friendly) pets, and that tots may enjoy conversing with them, even if they are fairly dumb. Maybe even because they are fairly dumb.

I got to this via Instapundit, whom I am consulting a lot just now because I enjoy the Dan Rather thing so much.

Gratuitous picture …

FujitsuRobot.jpg

… of a Fujitsu Robot demonstrating its goal-keeping skills. I found this picture here.

(Actually, a goal-keeping robot sounds like a fantastic soccer training idea. Ideal for the obsessionally aspiring striker to hone his skills on, while also learning some technology management skills. Maybe this boy should be given one. (Idea for Ubersportingpundit posting. (I owe them something.)))

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:03 PM
Category: Technology