When we think of robots, we tend to think of creations the size of us, or possibly those much larger machines with the potential to transform and/or rollout. Though we might be a bit biased in this particular form-factor reasoning, there is no denying that this is a line of thinking which has captivated us since well before the creation of even the first microchip.
What we tend to overlook is that robots are already around us constantly, just in a manner we have grown accustomed to and ignore.
The Idea of Robots
While the existence of robots in physical shapes are comparatively rare, they have existed in some form for years now. Mostly this has been with simplistic toys, as we saw with the Furby years ago. Only capable of basic feats, this toy was nonetheless incredibly popular in the western world.
More common among the complex versions of robots are those which are confined to technologically advanced nations such as Japan. The robot dog companion of AIBO was an early example of this, developed more as a companion for adults than for children. While the initial version of the robo-dog was released in 1999, updated AIBOs are still being developed to this day.
Less common are robots given a humanoid shape. Honda’s ASIMO was an early prototype in this department, and while it has never been released to the public, it has still seen continual updates and improvements.
More recently popular is the American DARPA produced ATLAS, a machine as complex as it is terrifying.
So, what about robots in daily life, and how do we know they’re everywhere, even if we can’t see them?
The answer to this question can be found in examining exactly what makes a robot a robot. In effect, the core of a robot is born of the ability of a machine to complete a complex task. While physical forms are often built around this to create what we commonly know as a robot, the idea of an actual brain exists in millions of forms all over the world as AI.
Of course, we’ve never actually developed true AI, but we still give the name to any machine capable of completing sufficiently complex tasks.
Translation programs are one of the most popular forms of these robots we see today. Used in business, entertainment, and recreation, these can quickly complete duties which might otherwise require immense time and financial investments.
Also of increasing use in the modern online world are programs which help in quality assurance. Take, for example, the realities of creating a range of online slot games for a digital casino, of which we see many online. For these to be legal and fair for developers and players, testing is required on a level which is impractical or impossible if done by humans. AI-based testing methods easily overcome this.
In terms of more direct AI, we could look towards the characters in standard video games. Guided by a series of routines and rules, there can be dozens or even hundreds of these AI operating simultaneously. Most famously developed as enemies for arena-based FPS games, these are often given the designation as ‘bots’.
The Ghost in the Machine
Looking into what makes a robot a robot invokes a question we could ask ourselves. We tend to think of a robot as a physical moving machine, just as we tend to think of humans as active and moving creatures. However, somebody missing a limb is no less of a human than somebody with all parts accounted for.
Similarly, a human trapped in a paralysed body is no less of a person than someone fully active. If we apply this logic to machines, then the question becomes where do we make the distinction, and when is that distinction fair?
We can’t pretend we have an answer to this problem, as it’s more philosophical and rhetorical than direct. Still, it’s either comforting or frightening to know that there are millions of machines all around us, potentially watching, and probably plotting.