Tag Archives: Isaac Asimov

Where is my home robot?

The possibility of owning a useful home robot was my ultimate aim when I began this blog back in March 2014. I am no expert by any means, just an interested watcher, and in my opinion, I am no closer, five years on, to my dream of owning a robot like “Andrew” from the film Bicentennial Man, where he was played by the late Robin Williams. Bicentennial Man was based on a short story by Isaac Asimov.

 

If I only had a brain

What would Asimov make of the state of intelligent robots today? Who is going to invent the much needed “Positronic Brain”¹ that Mr Asimov first described in his robot stories from 1939. Eighty years on we still do not have anything like a home robot that can think for itself and also has a strong moral compass.

You may gather that I am rather disillusioned by this situation. Perhaps that explains why I have not felt the need to write regular posts for this blog? I think Asimov would be disillusioned too. Admittedly there are some amazing industrial robots, but they can’t go out and cut the grass, or paint the outside of their factories. They are still limited to the one operation that they were taught to do.

My Mum with her radiogram in 1967

Much the same applies to today’s so called home robots. I can go out and buy a robot vacuum cleaner, but it won’t fold the laundry for me … that is another robot under development. I can buy a robot to cut the grass, but that is all it will do … it won’t dig the garden or trim the rose bushes. I wrote about this situation here in October 2014², and it is still the same now. Thank goodness most of us have moved away from hi-fi separates. My laptop has the potential to do everything that my hi-fi stack system did, apart from playing cassette tapes or vinyl, and as far as I’m concerned, the resurgence in interest in those antiquated sound recording devices is mere nostalgia. I can still remember my Mum shouting at us when we were playing a little too energetically in the lounge near her record player, “mind my stylus” would ring out from the kitchen. One jump of the playing arm could completely ruin a record.

 

Dead robots

There have been three “deaths” of home robots in recent times. One big casualty was Jibo. However, now that I look back at the website, it seems rather obvious. With a price tag of $899, and a list of functions that seem to be so similar to Amazon’s Alexa that one is like a clone of the other, it is hardly surprising. I paid half price in a sale (£25) for my Echo Dot with Alexa.

The other two casualties have been Kuri from Mayfield Robotics, and Cozmo from Anki³. It is sad, and not a good sign for getting potential investors in a similar project, but those things are just not “proper” robots by my way of thinking. OK, I know it has to start somewhere, but really, a home robot must have legs, and must be able to move around the house on surfaces that include carpets … so that probably rules out a lot of robots, like Pepper, which have wheels or balls in their base.

Price is obviously going to be something that will put a lot of potential buyers off. But why not rent a robot, with the added bonus of free updates and maintenance? I believe Pepper is available in some countries with this rental payment system.

 

Will Vesta have legs?

My only hope at the moment would seem to be Amazon. My £25 Echo Dot is quite a bargain, and I already pay extra for Amazon Music so that is an added bonus for me. I can’t remember the last time I bought a music CD. Last year I wrote about Amazon’s new project which is supposedly for a moving home robot named Vesta4. A quick Google search only came up with results from April last year. Are Amazon still working on their robot? An Amazon search just found Vesta Beef Curry, Vesta Paella and albums by Vesta Williams, so, sadly, I am no wiser.

 

Update (12 May 2019)

Today I visited the Anki website. There is a sad pop-up notice on the home page (image right) which states that the company is no longer manufacturing robots. They are still available to purchase on Amazon, and apparently there is still support available.

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positronic_brain

(2) https://newrobotclub.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/robots-in-the-home/

Vector

(3) I see that Anki is still available for sale on Amazon UK for £154.99 although it is not on the manufacturer’s website. The company is now promoting Vector, and that robot is also available from Amazon UK, price £249.99. These seem to be merely expensive toys.

(4) https://newrobotclub.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/what-do-i-know-about-vesta/

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I, Robot – free audio book

Have you ever read Isaac Asimov’s famous collection of robot stories, cleverly linked together into one book? The stories which eventually made up I, Robot were written between 1940 and 1950, but they are just as fascinating and thought provoking today.

Audible 30-Day Free Trial

At the time of writing this short Blog entry, there is an advert for Audible on the right hand side of this page. If you sign up for a free 30-day trial of the Audible service, you can listen to I, Robot completely free – all eight hours and 25 minutes of it.

One audio book reviewer wrote:

Listening to this audiobook was a true pleasure. The classic sci fi tale of robots and the future of humanity has aged very well and many of the issues it rasies still feel contemporary. The book’s structure is pure genius, taking several previously published short stories (some which feature on going characters and some which don’t) and stiching them together with original work by means of a journalist conducting reseach. The stories are increasingly epic and complex, each one drawing the listener further into the world of the robots. This is also fascinating for any sci fan as it effectively documents the developement of the genre in the last century, from the simplistic and haunting stories of the pulp fiction anthologies (which make up most of the first half of the book) to the politically complex novels that writers like Clark, Dick and of course Asimov went on to write.  On the production side the reader does an excellent job representing the different charatcers, both human and robotic! 

Fear of Robots

Robot at 10 Downing StreetShould we fear robots? They haven’t taken charge of the country yet (as far as we know) even though for many years they have been taking our jobs. Just think about the number of people that used to be employed on production lines. When I first left school, I spent three months working in a factory that made suitcases. There was very little automation back in the 1970s, so it took a large number of people to carry out all the work, one stage at a time.

I searched the internet for “fear of robots” and found the following examples. No doubt there are more, but if the robot age – which we are certainly at the start of now – brings a time of peace, leisure, space exploration and learning for the human race, then why should we fear robots at all? The most important thing we should remember is the location of their “off” switch!

Automatonophobia
A fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being. This includes ventriloquist dummies (which I can well understand), animatronic creatures, mannequins, and wax statutes. I would not normally be concerned about a visit to Madame Tussauds, but can you imagine being there after it closed, armed with just a torch?

Frankenstein complex
A term coined by Isaac Asimov in his robot novels for the fear of mechanical men.

Robophobia
An anxiety disorder in which the sufferer has an irrational fear of robots, drones, robot-like mechanics or artificial intelligence. This can result in a panic attack triggered by just viewing a robot or being near one.

Technophobia
The fear of advanced technology or complex devices.

Uncanny Valley
The best definition I have found for this is from http://www.urbandictionary.com:
First theorised by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, the Uncanny Valley basically states that the closer a robot or other nonhuman entity gets to resembling a human, the more humans will like and empathise with it. However, there is a point in development where humans instead become strongly repulsed by the barely-human robot/entity.

Here is a short video with a bit more information: