The cool robot filled future I envisioned when I was a nipper is finally happening. Yesterday, astronauts on the International Space Station ‘woke up’ the first ever Robonaut. Rather coolly, the robot is called R2. Maybe this name is just mad chance but unless stereotyping is utterly wrong, there’s likely to be at least one Star Wars fan among the robot builders. The robonaut itself actually looks pretty awesome, not like normal cutesy robots you often get from Japan which tend to have smiley faces and stupid names. This is a curiously muscled machine with a more Space Robot foot-soldier look about it. A bit more black, a deep emotionless voice, and perhaps a shoulder mounted gun and we’re almost there.
Apparently the robonaut is only designed to do basic things for now – make toast, clean the toilets, program the binary load lifters, that sort of thing. I assume in the future it will be doing all sorts of exciting things like space walks, exploration, warfare and inevitably taking over the vessel. Couple this with the recent news that IBM have developed a new chip that mimics the way the brain works and will be able to reason and learn and we are in for an exciting future. I just hope it is an exciting Star Wars/Buck Rogers/Aliens/Knight Rider, etc. future where robots are like our friendly buddies. As opposed to a Terminator/Blade Runner/Matrix/Battlestar Galactica, etc. future where the robots just get pissed off with us and reduce us to ‘plucky survivor fighting against the odds’ status.
The most likely result is probably that seen in Wall-E where robots do everything and we loll about fatly in hover chairs.
I hope it’s friendly robots with just a few mental ones for excitement. I want friends like the ABC Warriors. I just hope it happens faster. Machines building machines seems to be the answer – that’s never gone wrong in science fiction has it?
For the article on the new ‘brain chip’, it’s at Wired: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-08/19/ibm-synapse-cognitive-computer