“I Made That Choice Ten Years Ago”
Okay, take a look at this:
The Atlas robot created by Google-owned firm Boston Dynamics is a formidable figure at 6ft 2in tall and weighing in at 330lb.
The robot boasts 28 hydraulically actuated joints and stereo vision, and is one of the most advanced robots ever created.
However, it’s not just karate – Ian has another trick up his sleeve – software written by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Interaction which allows him to drive a car.
I was watching a news report where the commentator was talking about the robot’s ability to break into a door, essentially for search-and-rescue. So let me say definitively, this is awesomely cool, and as a technology guy, I applaud the amazing efforts. Stuff like this will change the world.
Here’s something I ask students interested in technology all the time. Let’s take a driver-less car scenario for a simple robotics programming test. The car is driving down the road, and suffers a catastrophic problem where it’s now headed to the curb with some ability to steer. Where do you aim the car in the following cases?
- Blank spot on the curb or a telephone pole
- Telephone pole or solid wall
- Blank spot or baby carriage
- Baby carriage or elderly person
Those types of choices are going to be programmed into the car in some way, likely years ahead of the cars being on the road. Obviously, the choices won’t be this black and white, but you get my point. The car, or the robot, or the heavy machine has to make decisions. And programmers will be responsible for those decisions years after the fact.
We make these types of choices already, but mostly in controlled environments. Robots in the automotive industry, for instance, swing heavy cars all over the place with auto workers all around. But those workers are trained in safety and know where to go and where not to go. When these things are released into the “wild west” of the real world… well, that’s different.
Technology is totally emotionless, but the human impetus behind it can certainly turn it to a direction that will concern and confuse those who didn’t participate in the decision. I’ll be very interested in seeing what happens as we start to release more of these amazing pieces of technology into a world where there’s plenty of emotion.