Today’s Nerd Word is “Robot”

ENTRY # 50

We’ve got plenty of robotical archetypes from which to choose– from Robbie, to Data, to Arnold (who, by the way, is back). Sci fi aside, we’ve got robots now and they’ve been around for a while. A robot can be defined as a programmable, self-controlled device consisting of electronic, electrical, or mechanical units. More generally, it is a machine that functions in place of a living agent” – whether it be human, horse, dog or even cat. Robots are great for places like nuclear power plants, smelting furnaces, and homes that have a desire for pets but don’t want to deal with fur or poop. So that Aibo is a robot. But so is your washing machine. The term  “robot” is actually Czech in origin and was first used in Karel Capek’s 1921 play, R.U.R. (which stood for Rossums Universal Robots). In that story robots provide the opportunity for a life of leisure. Which as it turns out in the play, is not exactly the best thing for the humans. Also, it turns out that it is not necessarily good to have slave labor with either a soul or intellect. While the word robot replaced the much older ones of automata, and android, the term carries with it much more depth than the straight definition provides. That’s because of this notion… if the machine emulates a human enough, and maybe starts thinking like us, at some point itÔø?s alive. Then we get existential and philosophical, and maybe a little scared. Isaac Assimov dealt with this conundrum way back in 1942 when he wrote “Runaround”, in it he posited “Three Laws of Robotics”:

  • A robot may not injure a human, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders it is given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the the First or Second Law.

Given how intelligent my washing machine is, I donÔø?t think we have to worry about giving our current robots ethics just yet (though a color sense would be great). Today weÔø?re talking about robots in their current state of intelligence, robots and art, robots and you… The Nerd Word is one segment of the weekly radio show, “What the Tech!” For those local to the Rochester, NY area, it airs Saturdays at 1:00pm and Monday nights at 11:00pm on 1370 AM, WXXI, the local public radio station. The show is also available for download the following Monday.

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