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Man Killed By Robot: Part 2

Recently I wrote an article entitled, "Man Killed By Robot: Get Used To It."

The title refers to a worker who was recently killed by a robot at a Volkswagen assembly line. The premise of my article involved the inevitable proliferation of "smart machines" and "artificial intelligence," and the need to discuss related opportunities and challenges.  

Many people commented, and emailed, their concerns regarding intelligent "killer robots."  Their fears, for now, are unwarranted. 

We're at that stage, where our expectations have outrun the reality of the technology.

Following is commentary from John Markoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covers science and technology for The New York Times. His most recent book is the forthcoming "Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots."

"There was a wonderful moment when I went down to cover the DARPA robotics challenge in Southern California.  [DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - DJK]

They had twenty-five teams. It was quite an event. It was a spectacle.

They built these by and large Terminator-style machines, and the idea was that they would be able to work in a Fukushima-like environment. [Fukushima is the Japanese nuclear power plant that suffered a "melt-down" after experiencing a tsunami in 2011 - DJK]

Only three of the machines, after these teams worked on them for eighteen months, were able to even complete the tasks. The winning team completed the tasks in about forty-five minutes.

They had one hour to do tasks that you and I could do in about five minutes.
  • They had to drive the vehicle
  • They had to go through a door
  • They had to turn a crank
  • They had to throw a switch
  • They had to walk over a rubble pile
  • They had to climb stairs                         
Most of the robots failed, at the second stage, which was opening the door.

  Video: The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge

Rod Brooks, who's this pioneering roboticist, came down to watch and comment on it afterwards because he'd seen all these robots struggling to get the door open and said,
"If you're worried about the Terminator,  just keep your door closed."
- - - -

DARPA is not the only robotics competition.

Feeding popular imagination, somewhat viral on Facebook and twitter,

"You have a giant robot, we have a giant robot. You know what needs to happen."

Last week CNN reported that with these fighting words, a new, robo-martial space race era was born. U.S.-based robotics company MegaBots issued the challenge late last month, as it put the finishing touches to its Mark 2 model,

"America's first fully-functional, giant piloted robot." 

At six tons and controlled by two pilots, the Mark 2 fires 3-pound paint cannonballs at speeds of over 100 miles per hour (160 kilometers an hour). The company plans to create a futuristic sports league where the giant robots batter each other into submission.

The challenge was issued to Suidobashi Heavy Industry which has already created the Kuratas, towering, single-pilot robots, which are commercially available.

The response from Suidobashi CEO, Kogoro Kurata;

"I'll fight. Absolutely."

Please note, these are not "smart" robots, they do not feature artificial intelligence. They are men wearing mechanical suits, with pseudo-military weapons attached.


As is often the case, it is not machines we need to fear, it's the men, and boys, who create them.

For a functional "real world" mechanical suit, without Tony Stark, Panasonic announced recently that it will start selling an exoskeleton designed to help workers lift and carry objects more easily and with less risk of injury. Story from MIT.

Panasonic Mechanical Exoskeleton 

(c) David J. Katz, New York City


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