Today, robots are used in many ways, from lawn mowing to auto manufacturing. Scientists see practical uses for robots in performing socially undesirable, hazardous or even “impossible” tasks — trash collection, toxic waste clean-up, desert and space exploration, and more. Robots becoming a part of our lives did not occur to me even though I have seen an actual robot (one of those cleaning disk one) and robot movies like Irobot and WallE. I always thought that robots belong in the movies because why would we need a robot? We’ll just become lazier than we are now. For example, if anyone remembers a scene in WallE, the fat guy tumbles over and can’t get up because he is obese. The character is obese because robots did everything for them and all the character has to do is sit on the chair and press a button to get everything he needs. I fear that once we get robots up and running our world will become just like in WallE.


After Professor Vesna’s lectures on Robotics, I became curious about the development of robots. So while browsing the Internet for more information, I came across Wikipedia who has a ton of information on robots. Did you know that the word Robot, which is derived from a Czech word meaning “menial labor,” got its modern meaning from a 1920 play. The robots in the play develop emotions and overthrow their human masters. A sinister “power struggle” with robots has long been a popular theme in science. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot) Also, I came across a video of inspiration for robots. It looks really cool but it made me wonder, are robots a hobby or something more?


It seems like a simple task. A robot crawling along a floor comes upon an obstacle. It stops, turns, and moves in a different direction. But is it so simple? Perhaps a robot with a more complex thought process would, instead of turning around, climb over the obstacle. Or push it out of the way. And what if the environment changes and it too becomes more complex? What if the obstacle was trash that needed to be picked up? Or a pet? Or a baby? What then would the robot do? The kind of interactions we as humans take for granted are a constant challenge for today’s roboticists. It’s questions like these they need to ask and try to answer when designing and building an autonomous robot capable of sensing and interacting with its environment. But, as robots become ubiquitous in society, roboticists have started to entertain other, more philosophical questions about the way we interact with robots and they with us. It’s less a question of “What would the robot do?” and more a question of “What should they do?” How will we deal with it if a robot harms somebody? Who’s responsible? What kind of rules are we going to put in place to protect ourselves? It’s better to start asking these questions now while robots are still in the developmental stage.


By Julie Pham 

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