Robot & Me
March 16, 2014
As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I was sure that when I grew up, I’d have a personal robot servant. We do have household robots, but an autonomous vacuum cleaner that bears a striking resemblance to an overly large hockey puck wasn’t exactly what I was imagining. No, the films, TV shows, and books I loved described a humanoid-machine equipped with true artificial intelligence. The closest thing that exists to such a machine is Honda’s ASIMO. While not a true AI, ASIMO is capable of recognizing human faces, responding to spoken commands and gestures, and performing a wide range of tasks.
Pretty impressive, huh? I'll bet you're wondering why we don't all have an ASIMO in our homes? You could buy ten 2014 Porsche 911s for the price of a single ASIMO! However, if the history of digital technology has taught us anything, it’s that you only have to wait about 20 years for the outrageously expensive to become affordable. When I was in graduate school in chemistry in the early 1990s, I had access to what was some serious computing power at the time via a Silicon Graphics work station. I’m sure the price tag on that computer was probably somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars. Today, I am writing this blog on a desktop computer that blows that machine out of the water in every respect, yet has a price tag in the hundreds of dollars.
So, all I have to do in order to finally have a personal robot is to wait. I’ll be getting up there by then, which brings me to what inspired this blog post in the first place. If you’ve read any of my blogs for MCPL, you’ll know I’m a serious fan of science fiction in all forms. "Science fiction movie" usually brings budget studio special-effects extravaganzas like Star Wars or Pacific Rim, not low budget indie films, yet one of the best SF films I’ve seen recently falls squarely into the latter camp. Robot & Frank is the touching, funny, and insightful story of an old man and his robot aide.You don’t need to be a science fiction fan to appreciate this film, as it is a wonderful combination of family drama, odd couple comedy, and heist film. However, this film tackles one of the big themes in science fiction, the impact of technology on the lives of the people who use it. Much like the Academy Award nominated film Her, this film looks to a possible future when some machines will cease being tools and start being companions. Will our future relationships be with intelligent machines as well as humans? I’m halfway there already with my iPhone 5S.