Here’s a real-world giant robot — used as advertising for Ericsson Telephones. I’m not sure where or when, but it’s quite old and makes for an impressive billboard, even if it’s not very mobile!

Source: me-ru-mo via Dark Roasted Blend

Robots of Deception

No doubt this is how we end up creating a race of Decepticons.

The evolution of robots toward the acquisition of fundamental human qualities has begun. Forget all that artificial intelligence stuff; the true test of humanity is the ability to lie.

A group of computer scientists at the Geor­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy are teaching their robots to be deliberately deceptive — at this stage by playing hide-and-seek. Isn’t that what Transformers do?

In the words of Professor Ronald Arkin, the researchers are developing algorithms that “al­low a ro­bot to de­ter­mine wheth­er it should de­ceive a hu­man or oth­er in­tel­li­gent ma­chine” and “help the ro­bot se­lect the best de­cep­tive strat­e­gy to re­duce its chance of be­ing discov­ered.” There are obvious military advantages for a surveillance droid to have this ability, as deceptive robots on the bat­tle­field would be able to suc­cess­fully hide and mis­lead the en­e­my by sending out false tracking information in order to keep them­selves and whatever in­forma­t­ion they’ve gathered safe.

But isn’t it dangerous?

“We have been concerned from the very beginning with the ethical implications related to the creation of robots capable of deception and we understand that there are beneficial and deleterious aspects,” Arkin said.

Co-researcher and engineer Al­an Wag­ner added:

Most so­cial ro­bots will probably rarely use de­cep­tion, but it’s still an im­por­tant tool in the ro­bot’s in­ter­ac­tive ar­se­nal be­cause ro­bots that rec­og­nize the need for de­cep­tion have ad­van­tages in terms of out­come com­pared to ro­bots that do not rec­og­nize the need for de­cep­tion.

Social robots will “rarely” use deception, eh? That’s comforting.

Undead Backbrain questioned one of the experimental robots about the research. He said: “Why ask me? I’m not even a ro …. [click] … ro [click] … robot.”

Read more about the research on World Science.

Sources: DIVICE; World Science

The Blonde’ll Get the Robot Every Time

Sex Kittens Go to College [aka The Beauty and the Robot] (US-1960; dir. Albert Zugsmith) was a piece of fairly harmless comedic sexploitation starring Mamie Van Doren, Tuesday Weld and Bridget’s sister Mijanou, dressed out in classic 1950s pointy bras and tight sweaters. Mamie Van Doren plays a brilliant science professor who is promoted to head of the science faculty by THINKO the campus robot, and gets to share at least one poignant and life-changing moment with him.

It turns out that THINKO was played by a real robot (of sorts) — Elektro, a robot built by Westinghouse Electric Corporation as a publicity “frontman”.

In 1937, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Corporation started construction on a robot designed to mimic many basic human actions. Within one year, Elektro was created — a giant steel and aluminum contraption adept at blowing up balloons, and smoking cigarettes and able to move its head, arms and legs. Some of Elektro’s more impressive feats included the ability to use a camera to distinguish between red and green lights and a motor skeleton to walk on command. Less impressive were the bad jokes broadcast over its speakers via microphone. (Popular Mechanics)

Apparently his smoking was a great attraction for visitors to the Westinghouse Building (see below), though he clearly had a high opinion of himself as he was known to say things like “I-am-Elektro…. my-brain-is-big-ger-than-yours”.

Elektro, who was created by Barney Barnett, remained the face of Westinghouse for many years, making appearances at places like the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where he wowed some 3.7 million visitors. But fame is fickle. Elektro’s fortunes declined over time, and he was finally reduced to accepting a small but pivotal role in Sex Kittens Go to College. Soon after the filming, however, Elektro was bought by a small, privately owned sideshow-type museum and later sold for scrap — though apparently his head survived. In 2009, the son of a Westinghouse engineer built a nonworking replica of Elektra, which is now on display at the Heinz History Center.

The whereabouts of his robot dog companion Sparko (designed by Don Lee Hadley) is, however, unknown.

For the curious, here is a schematic of Elektro’s workings:

And here’s Sparko’s inner workings:

Above: Barney Barnett with Sparko and his own creations, including daughter Mary Lou

Robot Scientists

The creation of machines that can “think” independently (as least as independently as grad students) and do their own scientific research and development would be a major step toward the creation of the sort of artificial intelligence that we frequently see in SF films and stories, right?

Welcome to the New World! Note that the robot scientist in this report isn’t humanoid in design — a fact that adds a certain interesting frisson to its achievement.

The Evolution of Robots

This is a commercial for SATURN, a German electronics retailer. It was directed by Carl Erik Rinsch for advertising agency Scholz&Friends.

In case you think the evolution of robots into sexy humanoid form is unlikely, check out this real-world one:

Robots and War

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk by P.W. Singer on military robots and what they mean for the future of warfare. Fascinating and powerful stuff!

Peter Warren Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution — where his research and analysis offer an eye-opening take on what the 21st century holds for war and foreign policy. His latest book, Wired for War, examines how the US military has been, in the words of a recent US Navy recruiting ad, “working hard to get soldiers off the front lines” and replacing humans with machines for bombing, flying and spying. (TEDsite)

Or watch it on the TED website here.

Source: TEDTalks

Why Robots Are a Good Thing

The Honda Corporation documentary, Living With Robots, may be designed as a promotional tool, but it gives an excellent introduction to the various issues — technical, psychological and sociological — surrounding the development of bi-pedal robots. You know, the humanoid kind that so often end up being the villains in sci-fi films and stories. Honda’s experimental robot Asimo is a fascinating and awesome creation, so close to the science fictional robots of my youthful imaginings that it makes me think that the futures so often depicted in SF literature are very close indeed.

For those that don’t know about the concept of the “Uncanny Valley” — so important in this field of research, even if recently discredited somewhat (more on that at another time) — Living With Robots gives you a brief introduction to that as well.