doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

What’s Next with Robots? – Teaching Them to Lie?

My first experience with robots was with Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons. Here was the perfect servant for the home. She did everything that you would expect from a maid and never tired. She had empathy with the family and a real personality. She had her down time too, but for the most part, she was a good character in a big cast of characters and also made you think that perhaps there would come a time when a mechanical assistant would be a reality and have human traits to add value to the process. Of course, that may happen years from now.

Time passes and we see real robots in action. I recall the tour of the Daimler Chrysler plant that was given to the RCAC group. Here we see the reality as robots are put to good use. They didn’t need safety glasses, could work in difficult environmental conditions and worked with pinpoint accuracy. The ones that traversed the floor had warning horns so that you knew to get out of the road as they came along. They had their own painted pathway on the floor too. Not for them to use, but for us to know that we couldn’t.

In schools, the lead up to robotic programming is interesting and really attracts a number of students. To be able to program a turtle or a movable device is an exciting prospect for some students. Some of us long timers had long been proponents of Logo (which I still regard as one of the highlights of my own Computer Science experiences) but there’s just something so intriguing about programming something that runs around the floor and performs tasks as opposed to running around your computer screen.

No matter what, you could always count on a robot to do exactly what you told it to do. Tell it to do the wrong thing and it dutifully followed your instructions. Tell it to do the right thing and your robot would do exactly what you want. Become good enough and you and your team just might win a robotics programming competition. With some programming, they could adapt their actions but always in a predictable fashion.

Until now.

At the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, robots now have the ability to learn about their environment and work together or they can lie to each other. What a fascinating concept. I had to read the article a couple of times to truly get a picture in my mind about what was happening.

In a robotic world where we have devices that are predictable, programmable, and with great precision — now they can be taught to lie?

Is man now becoming more precise in creating a mechanical image of himself? What next? Back stabbing, bullying, anger, …

Maybe the life of George Jetson isn’t that far off after all.

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