No sooner had I complained about the lack of robotic nannies, when I received news of an interesting nature: One of those game-changing leaps forward in technology was occurring in the world of robotics.
Essentially, one of the biggest problems in getting robots to perform routine tasks on their own is the fact that they’re unable to recognize objects as what they are — they might “see” a cat sitting next to a flowerpot, but without the critical thinking that leads to discernment, there’s no way for the robot to know the difference between the two objects.
So Jim and Louise Gunderson, in a process they call “reification”, went about trying to figure out how to simplify the process of learning for a robot, by reducing the types of information the robot perceives into more basic features. For example, to qualify an object as a chair, there needs to be 2 or 3 legs, it needs to have a seat at roughly waist height, etc. By scanning the object before it, the robot — in this case, one named “Basil”, possibly an homage to the famous actor Basil Rathbone who portrayed Sherlock Holmes — will pick out the key features it needs to identify an object, and thus generate the proper behavior required to interact (or not) with it.
Their big test came when debuting Basil to the Cafe Scientifique in the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado. The event occurs 10 times a year, and is a meeting of the community’s science-loving community. Basil’s task that evening was to navigate his way to the bar, order a beer, and return. Unfortunately, the task went unfulfilled when Basil’s batteries ran out of juice. Regardless, the Gundersons were pleased with their progress, and have identified more areas that need work before moving forward with their plans for robotic world domination. I, for one, say: Bring it on. I’ve been ready for the robot apocalypse for years. As long as they don’t talk like Wall-E, I’m all for it.