To be able to create a synthetic being that could do the mundane chores of our every day lives, has been a goal for us humans for not just the last 20 years, or the last century, but as far back as the ancient Greeks. In 350 BC, the Greek mathematician Archytas built a steam powered mechanical pigeon, that could fly. In 1495, Leonardo Devinci designed what looked like a mechanical Knight. In 1801, Joseph Jacquard built an automated loom, that was controlled by punch cards. The punch cards being likened to a modern day computer program, that told the loom how to work. These are but a few examples of robotics and automata of old. To find more, a simple web search with “history of robots” will bring up a plethora of information for the budding technologist.
When a person is first presented with the term artificial intelligence, they, as long as they have at least a minimal idea of the meaning, immediately conjure up the view of subservient humanoid robots, doing our household chores, policing our streets, or taking on our enemies in a combat zone. These, although being worked on, are quite some way from being a reality. Although, there are robot vacuum cleaners, and automated (robotic) missiles and vehicles to name but a few, but none of any consequence in human form.
There are many hurdles to be crossed before humanoid robots will become common place, not least of all, the mostly negative psychological effect realised by many who our uncomfortable with a visually realistic humanoid automaton.
Walking on two legs, which us humans take for granted, had the problem of balance to solve, and has only recently been mastered, as represented by mechanoids such as sony’s Asimo. And running, although done fairly well by Asimo, still needs a good amount of work before being able take on a human athlete on a running track.
Emulating the human senses has provided computer scientists and engineers with many an obstacle. Mastering sound, vision, touch and taste have been met with varying degrees of success. Sound and visual recognition has come along in leaps and bounds in recent years, and has given us fully automated weaponry that is able to track a target, and hit it with pin point accuracy. Voice recognition has given us voice activated devices such as those used in security systems, and the ability to dictate to a computer and have the computer generate the text from a person’s verbalisation. Special sensors can be used to test (taste,touch) surfaces, chemicals, gasses etc. and analyse them.
The ability to reason with an automated device or robot, is one area that is a long way from being a reality, but an area that has had, and will have many devotees. There are two main branches of research when dealing with artificial intelligence and robotics, the first being the creation of a truly thinking and reasoning artificial life form much like the robots and computers found in fiction, such as Robby from the film The Forbidden Planet, or Data from Star Trek The Next Generation, or the boy from the film Artificial Intelligence. These, for now, are somewhat whimsical, but should never be given up on, and with future advances in technology will at some point become a reality. The other branch is the more realistic approach to making use of the byproducts of the artificial intelligence research, that can be put to use in our day to day lives. This side has brought us the computer and the parts that make up a computer (e.g. integrated circuitry – chips). Automated weaponry and security systems. Automated vehicles and craft, such as spy planes, and trains. Communication systems, such a mobile/cell phones and satellites. In fact, just about every electronic device that is made contains some sort of automation, including cars, vacuum cleaners, gym equipment, buildings, street lighting… to name but a few.
All in all, we would not have the gadget filled electronics eutopia as we do now, if it was not for the people such as Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, and Steve Wozniak, to name but a miniscule number, who pursued their dreams and as a result positively contributed to the world’s knowledge of artificial intelligence, robotics and computing.