Robots Alive? Robots Alive!

Oct 27, 2014

The idea of the Noosphere, sphere of human thought, was first introduced in the early 20th century by forward thinking visionaries. They could see another sphere of interaction just as real as the biosphere or atmosphere where ideas and interactions were taking place between human minds.

Even back in the 1920’s other visionaries were seeing the creation of robots, machines that look like people. Some people viewed robots as subservient being that would never become part of society because humans couldn’t form personal feelings toward them and treat them as equals.

Some more radical thinkers assert that people could only become attached to a robot if it directly resembles and mimics the subtitles of human interaction. But, anyone who has seen Star Wars knows that even a dome-topped garbage can that beeps, can pluck our heartstrings.

Enter Heather Knight a roboticist who is doing research at Carnegie Melon University to understand how people react to robots. Her research has led her to create several robots, including one that she affectionately refers to as her, Marilyn Monrobot. This pint-sized automaton performs stand-up comedy, dances for the crowd and seems to enjoy its work which you can see here in a recent show he put on at a recent TED conference.

Marilyn has even published a paper outlining some of her research that she has performed in human-robot interaction here. “Robots do not require eyes, arms or legs for us to treat them like social agents”, she asserts. “…as social creatures, it is often our default behavior to anthropomorphize moving robots.”

As humans we think, we crave interaction with other living things but Knights research is showing more and more that we crave interaction with moving things. Throughout human history we have anthropomorphized animals. More recently, Jim Henson had no trouble creating emotional connections with between humans and muppets on the silver screen and Pixar has taken it one step further with its recent films about toys, planes, and boats.

If we can develop these kinds of relationships with just two of our senses, sight and hearing, how much strong of a connection will we be able to make if we are able to physically interact with robots, especially in emotionally intense situations? According to Knightly, pretty strong!

It turns out that iRobot, the manufacturers of the Packbot bomb-disposal robots, have actually received boxes of shrapnel consisting of the robots’ remains after an explosion with a note saying, “Can you fix it?” Upon offering to send a new robot to the unit, the soldiers say, “No, we want that one.” That specific robot was the one they had shared experiences with, bonded with, and the one they did not want to “die.”

Noosphere Ventures is interested in any new technology that helps us advance the human experience. Recent advances in robotics have served to blur the line between living and inanimate being of existence. Will we someday have to rethink the concept of the Noosphere to include our metallic counterparts?

Time will tell, but for now it remains an exciting field of research and, like any good science, one that is generation more questions than answers. Noosphere continues to be excited about this new sphere of research and looks forward to continuing to discover it with you!