Tiny Robots

15 03 2008

Fresh off the wire, Trendhunter and hell, just about everyone else are talking about robot tech coming out of the EU’s Symbrion project.
Search and Rescue! Space Exploration! Medicine!
Results by 2013!
Well shit, looks like mom was right – that Roomba was just a waste of money

You ever notice that robot news is cyclical?

It seems we’ve started another swing towards swarm technology on both the macro and micro scale. This generally occurs after Robot Uprising talk and before the man’s-best-friend stuff.

Strangely no one considers the uprising when they talk about new cuddle bots. I still say it’ll be hybrid Elmofurbys that eventually enslave us all. But, I digress…

Read a little further though and you’ll notice that they don’t expect *anything* useful for at least 10 years. Do a little hunting around and you’ll further realize you’ve seen all this before. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a special on Discovery HD running along with that killer bee fight around the clock.

The point I’m not doing a good job coming to is that while advances are made by the fine people at the JPL and elsewhere (Carnegie Mellon for one – but they dont get a link for having a web page circa Geocities in ’98) they take time and they happen in tiny steps.
Yet it seems every time someone gets ahold of a research paper, the internet goes apeshit about how the future is right around the corner.

Sadly, it isn’t, and even our brave researchers aren’t saying so. The problem is the aren’t not saying it either – they still desperately need their research grants and “soon the robots will escape a maze by working together” isn’t quite as sexy as “one day, the robots will battle on television in a faux Roman coliseum for our amusement. A lesson will be learned about the nature of slavery and Christianity will be included in the end for no reason” for getting investor’s panties moist.
[Bonus Points for knowing precisely where I’m stealing that theme from]

The majority of the population – people happy to ignore robots so long as they aren’t being exterminated by them – only catch the science news thats pushed to the top of the page, and when what they see is this; more of a status update then a breakthrough well they’re happy to skim right on by. And we all know the biggest danger to public scientific research is an apathetic population.

Being excited about advances in robotics and AI gets my approval. Robots are freakin’ sweet. But as lay-geeks, enthusiasts and scientists; those interested 365 days a year, we need to temper our reactions to this kind of news and the way we spread it.

In the end we’re only blue balling ourselves anyway. This is still where we’re at with the swarm and its been like that for a while.
Don’t expect robozerglings to be doing fire rescue any time soon. But don’t stop believing… Now I’m gonna go watch AI and cry a bit.

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