robots

Forget the Robot Apocalypse. Order Lunch.

The robot and I met at the southwest corner of Center and Shattuck. It was 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the streets were bustling. The robot was small and boxy, something like a cooler on wheels. I knelt down at what I presumed was the robot’s front end. It winked a pixilated eye.

Following instructions I’d received in advance, I raised a hand and flashed an “okay” sign. The robot emitted a pleasant dinging sound and a hatch on top slowly opened. I reached in and removed a grease-stained paper bag. Inside were two slices of warm pizza.

Super Curious Mario: Teaching AI to Keep Asking Questions

In the ongoing quest to build artificial intelligence (AI) that more closely mimics the human brain, some computer scientists at Berkeley are focusing on one crucial piece of the puzzle: curiosity.

For the last three years Deepak Pathak and Pulkit Agrawal, Ph.D. students in the Berkeley computer science department, have worked to create software that can learn on its own. Now the team is looking at creating systems that can not only learn, but keep asking questions.

From the Winter 2017 Power issue of California.

Should We Be Worried About Rogue AI? We Ask the Experts.

Technoscenti titans Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have gotten into a bit of a tiff lately, with Musk repeating warnings that rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential threat to humanity, and Zuckerberg countering that such concerns are much ado about not much.

The Starship or the Canoe: Where Will Our Future Adaptations Be?

IN 2015, an observatory high in the Atacama Desert of Chile detected three planets orbiting an M star, an ultra-cool dwarf, in the constellation Aquarius about 40 light years, or 232 trillion miles, from Earth. Until then, the dim star was designated 2MASS J23062928-0502285. Not such a charming name. The discoverers of its satellites, a team of astronomers who operate the Chilean observatory remotely from Liege in Belgium, took the opportunity to warm up that appellation.

From the Summer 2017 Adaptation issue of California.

The Good, The Bad and The Robot: Experts Are Trying to Make Machines Be “Moral”

Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong. Human beings begin to learn the difference before we learn to speak—and thankfully so. We owe much of our success as a species to our capacity for moral reasoning. It’s the glue that holds human social groups together, the key to our fraught but effective ability to cooperate. We are (most believe) the lone moral agents on planet Earth—but this may not last. The day may come soon when we are forced to share this status with a new kind of being, one whose intelligence is of our own design.

Natural by Design: Next-Gen Robots Run, Flap, Crawl—and Talk to Each Other

Imagine a city in the near future devastated by a powerful earthquake. Rescue workers arrive and unleash hundreds of tiny robots. Some of these robots flap into the air with “wings,” sending images of the disaster area to the ground team—a swarm of insect-like devices the size of a matchbox that scuttle over the concrete and disappear into crevices. One robot’s sensors detect a person trapped under the rubble, so it signals to a larger, stronger robot for assistance before moving on to the next building.

From the Spring 2015 Dropouts and Drop-ins issue of California.

Robot Response: Exploring Unique ‘Hands-On’ Potential in the Fight Against Ebola

People tend to be wary of replacing humans with robots—but what if robots could be deployed as mechanical helpers in the fight against Ebola?

The disease, which is an epidemic in West Africa and has made isolated appearances in a few other countries including the United States, is hard to catch but often deadly. Because it is spread by contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids, health care workers and burial workers are particularly at risk.

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