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I, Robot

The Imperial College Robot

Robots are increasingly finding their niches in society. It's happening in the background, a little at a time, gaining acceptance until before you realise it you won't be able to manage without them. They have been a long time coming. For many years, robots have helped defuse bombs and spray paint cars. Auto pilots can now fly a plane from take-off to landing if required and in fact modern military fighters would fly like a brick were it not for the computer - a human just can't react fast enough to keep them in the air, so why bother with the human at all. More recently robots have found a niche helping surgeons too.

There are several distinctive types of things we are calling robots here though. The robots of science fiction films are intelligent, autonomous beings. They aren't here yet... not quite, though the artificial life community have been making good progress. A second kind is an autonomous being, able to move around, though they aren't really intelligent - just doing pre-programmed tasks. Most robot toys are of this kind as is the autopilot. It isn't a physical being - just its brain - but it does take complete control of its aircraft body - no humans needed. A third kind of robot augment human abilities, though the human still provides the intelligence. A futuristic example is the suit of the Green Goblin, Spiderman's foe, that gives him superhuman powers. The robots helping surgeons are expanding a human's abilities in this way, removing the shaking of the hand, for example.

Whether all these forms of robot deserve the name or not, the way humans and machines interact is getting decidedly more exciting.