Pentagon Unveils New Humanoid Robot

From the New York Times:

“Moving its hands as if it were dealing cards and walking with a bit of a swagger, a Pentagon-financed humanoid robot named Atlas made its first public appearance on Thursday.

C3PO it’s not. But its creators have high hopes for the hydraulically powered machine. The robot — which is equipped with both laser and stereo vision systems, as well as dexterous hands — is seen as a new tool that can come to the aid of humanity in natural and man-made disasters.”

This is pretty cool. Apparently they are going to give these robots to various programming teams that entered a competition “with a $2 million prize to the company that programs the robot most able to perform an elaborate rescue mission.”

As the hardware for robots improves, the burden of advancing the field of robotics will fall increasingly on the the programmers. It is incredibly difficult to program a computer to resemble something even remotely human. There is just so much that we don’t know about our own brains, let alone creating a new one from scratch.

One area that looks promising is neural networks, where machines are capable of learning for themselves. I think it was Google that built a neural network that could recognize cats in YouTube videos. Not exactly the most useful skill, but it’s a good start.

I must say that having just seen I, Robot last night, this machine also conjures up images of killer robots that want to take over the world and/or wipe out humanity. But we’re a long way from having to worry about that. I hope.

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