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The rise of robots and the decline of humanity.

`In the new millennium, we will become our machines," says Rodney Brooks, director of MITs Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Brooks noted that work is well advanced on the creation of a new species of sentient machines known as "Robo Sapiens."

"We are talking about the emotional coupling between the robot and the human," Brooks says. "It's inevitable." Brooks foresees that these thinking, autonomous robots -- with their enhanced computational skills and physical strength -- will find ready use both in the business world and on the battlefield.

Autonomous robots are not just inevitable: they are imminent. In May 2001, ActiveMedia Research reported that "a multifunctional android capable of almost substituting for a general-purpose waiter is likely five to 10 years away" while "personal robots will be commonplace in the nation within 10 years." ActiveMedia foresees a 3,500 percent growth in the production of robots and a 2,500 percent increase in revenues transforming robotics into a $17 billion industry by 2005.

Honda has invented Asimo, a child-sized robot that can walk, climb stairs, turn rights off and on and perform small household tasks (see photo on page 37). Interactive Week notes that Honda's mini-robot "is being outfitted with programs and artificial sensors that will make it autonomous."

Children in Japan and the US are growing up playing with robotic pets -- Sony's robot puppy Aibo, Toy Quest's robot dog Teckno and Hasbro's bizarrely-named robot doll, "My Real Baby."

At the last Robodex expo in Japan, Sony introduced its astounding "Dream Robots," which dazzled spectators by jumping, dancing and kicking balls.

In laboratories around the world, engineers who might once have used their talents to fashion human prosthetics are now designing body parts for robots -- feet, knee-joints, prehensile hands, supersensitive ears and eyes and "haptic" sensors that approximate the sense of touch.

The MIT Media Lab's robot, Kismet, has been trained to recognize and respond to human emotions. Kismet can communicate its mood through facial expressions ranging from happiness to anger. Interactive Week reports that the next goal is to teach Kismet "that actions have consequences, just like a child learns how to behave through interaction with other children and adults."

In the words of Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet: "Robots are becoming more human and humans are becoming more robotic."
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Publication:Earth Island Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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