Monday, 16 April 2012

Edinburgh Science Festival 6 - Thinking Robots

This is the 6th in a series of blogs from the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Myself and six other bloggers have been writing about the event during the fortnight.

Robots, scientists, cartoonist - they go together naturally. So although it wasn’t on my original list from the Festival organisers, The Thinking Robot was a talk I was keen to attend.
It was given by Professor Alan Winfield and was refreshingly straightforward and pragmatic. 
 Taking a scale of animal intelligence, he argued that the most advanced robots today would be somewhere near the bottom, below cockroaches and senior Tory politicians (actually he didn’t mention the Tory politicians).
He offered four types of intelligence:
1. Morphological - the body’s own natural reactions and balanced structure

2. Swarm intelligence - the emergent property visible in bees or flocks of starlings
3. Individual - the ability which enabes an individual to learn by trial and error
4. Social - learning from each other.
Whereas an animal may show two or more types of intelligence, individual the best robots so far can only manage one of them.
Along with discussing the moral and philosophical implications, Alan showed films of several robots which, frankly, I wouldn’t allow in the house. The exhibited the ‘uncanny valley’ effect - one side is cartoon-like, the other is human-like; somewhere in between is the weird, neither one-thing-or-the-other zone guaranteed to creep you out.
It looks like it’s going to be a while before we get the robot butler

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