Multi-purpose Robot Design

Multi-purpose Robot Design
The versatility of the human body is truly amazing. Think of all the things that humans can do. We can walk, jump, climb, and run. We can lift, throw, catch, and push. Our fingers, hands, arms, and legs can do many wonderful things. They can even do multiple different kinds of things, sometimes at the same time. Consider all of the things your mouth can do. You use your mouth to talk, sing, eat, drink, blow, kiss, and smile. Robot designers have not been able to create a robot that can do everything the human body can do. Perhaps taking a cue from the “Transformers” movies, some engineers want to develop a multi-purpose robot design.

The job is not easy. Some are experimenting with the idea of creating heat-activated origami suits that serve as exoskeletons for a robot to allow it to do different tasks. The robot would change costumes to “transform” itself. Just as crawling caterpillars morph into flying butterflies, the goal is to create a robot that transforms itself by taking on a different form as it applies a different suit. The director of the project at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory said, “With this metamorphosis-inspired approach, we can extend the capabilities of a single robot by giving it different accessories to use in different situations.”

It sounds like a very challenging task to create a self-morphing robot. However, changing an outer shell to give the robot different functions is not the same as the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. In a way that is beyond robot engineering, the caterpillar dissolves into mush then reorganizes into something completely different. It doesn’t merely take on a new shell. This worm with no real brain does something that the brightest engineering designers can’t accomplish.

Getting back to the versatility of the human body, that has to be the most significant engineering accomplishment ever. We can do a countless number of different things. Then using the brain that God gave us, we can create tools (even robots) to accomplish the tasks we don’t have the strength or stamina to do. Multi-purpose robot design is a worthy challenge requiring the versatile abilities that only God could give us.

The Journal Science Robots reported on “Robotic metamorphosis by origami exoskeletons” which you can read HERE.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Sophia the Robot Speaks at DePauw University

Sophia the Robot
Sophia the robot carries the title of the world’s “first artificial intelligence-fueled android.” She became a citizen of Saudi Arabia in October, has a face that can show expression, metal hands, and a clear skull that shows the working wires of the artificially intelligent brain. An AP news report said that “in past interviews, Sophia has expressed a desire to be immortal, a mother, and smarter than humans.”

Dr. David Hanson is the creator of this interesting computer, and he owns a company called Hanson Robotics. This robot functions through a Wi-Fi connection and has a large memory for storage of information and a large vocabulary. At DePauw University Dr. Hanson was showing what robots can do. He predicts that robots can be designed to look and function in very human-like ways making them a part of the lives of humans in the future.

The definition of “human” is the real issue here. If you define humans in terms of what they can do, then in the future robots might be considered human. The fact that this robot has been made a citizen of Saudi Arabia shows that the government there has a mechanical definition of what a citizen is, and Sophia can do everything their test requires. What is interesting is that this robot did not happen by chance. It is the product of an intelligence, David Hanson, who worked as a designer with the Walt Disney Imagineering team.

The biblical definition of a human is a living being created in the image of God. That image allows spontaneous expression of guilt, sympathy, self-sacrificing love, and the capacity for creativity in art and music. In this case, being human allows the creation of an interesting computer that copies much of what humans possess. However, neither Sophia the robot nor any other android will ever possess those things that make humans special.
(Watch an interview with Sophia in Saudi Arabia.)
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Talking with the Dead

Man Meets Robot
Man Meets Robot

Researchers at the University of Minnesota say that they will soon be making voice simulations of someone so close to the actual person that they will “be able to accurately imitate those who have died.” The claim is that “we will be able to continue to interact with them as if they continued to live.” There is a test called the Turing Test which allows researchers to tell whether a response is from a human or a machine. Some of the simulations have passed the Turing test. In other words, you could be talking to a simulation of your father who died ten years ago, and you would not be able to tell that you were talking to a computer. Family history, mannerisms, voice inflections, patterns of choices can all be built into the computer simulation.

In an article by Muhammad Ahmad from the Minnesota department of computer science in Saturday Evening Post (March/April 2017 page 10), a shocking question was asked. The question was, “Would such a system have a soul?” Ahmad responded that his work would allow experiences OF a deceased person, not experiences WITH the deceased. Ahmad says that “in the future, you would still be able to spend time laughing and reminiscing with a simulation so similar to your loved one that it would be difficult to tell the two apart.

The things that make us truly human will never be possible in a simulation. A simulation can revisit a memory from the past. Past events, mannerisms, and patterns of choice can be built into the simulation. However, there will not be creative expression in art and music, spontaneous acts of worship, feelings of guilt and sympathy, and an agape type of love. I have spent hours watching videos of my wife of 49 years and my children as babies and toddlers and teenagers. It has been a rich experience. I have recordings of my deceased mother and of my kids’ school events. Those are good memories, but even better is having the comfort of knowing that God is now caring for my loved ones and that in the future there is the hope of something far better than the best memories I have of the past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017