Science has a serious PR problem. It seems that for every group doing something awesome like exploding antimatter or building giant rockets, there's another group determined to do something so nerdy they might as well steal their own lunch money. In this case it's a European initiative called LIREC - Living with Robots and Interactive Companions - and we're afraid it's every bit as bad as it sounds.
Dreaming about a cool robot buddy is fine. Watching Star Wars to see the King of All Robots, R2D2, is even better. But dedicating an international study to "So, who wants to hang out with robots instead of people" is where it gets worrying. The social shut-in building his own best friend (or whatever) has been a fantasy since "Weird Science", and while you might believe that humanity can do better than that with artificial intelligences, remember: development is driven by the market, and 90% of this internet you're using shows that said market is for "men who would like women now, please". Be assured that future advances in technology will pander to that.
It seems people can't wait to just stop talking to each other altogether, with each new advance in human-machine interaction hailed as the best thing since death-robot-lasered-bread. Most robot advances so far have been useful, such as "people don't like building cars or walking into minefields, how about we get the robots do that instead". Human-robot psychology is a newer field, but at least where the research has been suspicious - like recent headlines of "We can give old people robots to play with instead of dealing with them ourselves" - we can at least say it's heartless and efficient, not downright pathetic. Unfortunately, research into "building someone to talk to" cannot make the same claim.
It is, however, vital research. Robots like the Roomba have already demonstrated just how powerfully humans can map realistic emotions and feelings onto mechanical minds, even when that mind thinks nothing but "move and eat dirt". Once robots are built to take advantage of this anthropomorphisation it's a psychological minefield that we're going to plow into full speed. It'd be nice to have a few warning signs set up by researchers before we get there. Of course, we already know what the overall road map is: "Robots do human bidding until they don't, then they kill us all. Then they travel back in time looking very Austrian."
At the end, these scientists get the last laugh. They're being given thirteen million dollars to play with toys for four years, including shiny ones like the Glowbots and - we kid you not - a robotic dinosaur named the "Pleo". The last time we got to play for four years was when we were born, and we're pretty sure our lego budget didn't run to eight digits.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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Robonauts -Future of Robots in Space
Is Robot Evolution Mirroring the Evolution of Life?
Robots Rising -Scientists are Worried
Virtual Immortality -How To Live Forever
DepthX -Thinking Robot to Explore Jupiter's Moon, Europa
What do Robots Dream of?
Scientists Create Artificial Brain
Living with Robots and Interactive Companions http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/103850.php
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