While the term “robot” has been a part of the English language since 1921, and societies have been interested in various automated devices for centuries, my fascination with them didn’t begin until graduate school. And even then it was kind of by accident!
I read P.W. Singer’s Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century for one of my classes and immediately became hooked. The book, which is full of pop culture references and extremely accessible, fascinated me and I found myself really intrigued by the way different cultures see robots. In the West, for instance, automata are typically used in manufacturing or war, while humanoid robotic caregivers are more common in the East. There are a number of reasons for this discrepancy, including things like improvised explosive devices and aging populations, but I love the debates over what robots can and should do, how far we should develop their autonomy, and what it means to be human.
As my interest in robots grew, I started noticing that they are often featured in science fiction novels or movies, and usually with disastrous results (I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party!). But for all of the imagination featured in these stories, the authors do wrestle with some of the weightier questions regarding our current and future robotic counterparts. And it seems that, more and more, science fiction is becoming science fact.
Don’t get me wrong, these are really interesting questions to be following, both personally and professionally, but I guess I fall more into the “Just because we can, should we?” camp. I know there are people though, like Ray Kurzweil, eagerly awaiting the “singularity,” the moment when non-human intelligence surpasses human intelligence.
In honor of these different perspectives, I bring you Robot Week! While my posts will certainly not be all-encompassing (maybe it will just be Robot Week #1), they will all have something to do with robots, or at least how they are being depicted in today’s popular culture.
So stick around and let me know what you think: Are we more likely to get a C-3PO, an Optimus Prime, or a Terminator?