See 500 years of robots Charllotte Abbot shakes hands with Pepper an interactive French-Japanese robot, during a press preview for the Robots exhibition held at the Science Museum in London, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
See 500 years of robots
Lexile

Ben Russell was inspired by his belief that human beings are largely scared of robots. He has set about charting the evolution of automatons. It is all for an exhibition in England. He hopes it will help people to think about how androids and other robotic forms can enhance their lives.
 
Robots, says Russell, have been with us for centuries. "Robots" is the name of his show. The exhibit is at London's Science Museum.
 
The exhibition "Robots" tracks the development of robotics. On display is a 15th century Spanish clockwork monk. He kisses his rosary and beats his breast in contrition. There is also a Japanese "childoid" newsreader. It was created in 2014. It has lifelike facial expressions. The exhibit focuses on mankind's obsession with copying itself.
 
Arnold Schwarzenegger's unstoppable Terminator cyborg is there. So is Robby the Robot. It is the star of the 1956 film "Forbidden Planet." They represent the horror and the fantasy of robots with minds of their own.
 
Other examples are there, too. The exhibit shows factory production-line machines. Some have been blamed for taking people's jobs. One is a "telenoid communications android." It is used for hugging during long-distance phone calls. It is meant to ease loneliness. And there is Kaspar. It is a "minimally expressive social robot" built like a small boy. Kaspar is designed to ease social interactions for children with autism.
 
"Robots haven't been these terrifying things. They've been magical, fascinating, useful. And they generally tend to do what we want them to do," said Russell. He works at the science museum. He was the lead curator of the exhibition.
 
It is human nature to be worried in the face of change, Russell noted. But he said his exhibit should help people "think about what we are as humans." And realize that if robots are "going to come along, you've got a stake in how they develop."
 
A total of 100 robots are set in five different historic periods in the show. The exhibit explores how religion, industrialization, pop culture and visions of the future have shaped society.
 
Rich Walker is managing director of Shadow Robot Company in London. For him, robotics is about what these increasingly sophisticated machines can do for humans to make life easier. That is especially true for the elderly or the impaired.
 
"I'm naturally lazy," Walker said. He got involved "so that I could get robots to do things for me." His company has developed a robotic hand. It can replicate 24 of the 27 natural movements of the human hand.
 
Humans have a one percent failure rate at repetitive tasks. Only committing errors about once every two hours, the robotic hand could replace humans on production lines, he said.
 
Walker admits further erosion of certain types of jobs if inventions such as his are successful. But he says having repetitive tasks performed by automatons would free up people to adopt value-added roles.
 
"The issue is to rebuild the economy so that it has a holistic approach to employment," he said.
 
This in turn leads to questions. Some were raised at the exhibition. For instance, should owners of robots pay taxes on the value of their output as part of the new industrial revolution?

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How could robots have been made 500 years ago?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (2)
  • vinnyv-hei
    2/15/2017 - 10:40 a.m.

    Robots could be made 500 years ago. But not good ones

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