Aeon Magazine published my extended essay on humanoid robots today.
At 3.7k words, it’s feature length, and enough room for me to go into depth about the state of the art of these machines that are poised to invade our lives, and what the future holds for them.
The setting is the DARPA Robotics Challenge, or DRC, Trials held near Miami in December. Sixteen teams from around the world brought their robots to compete in such apparently mundane tasks as walking across uneven terrain, opening doors, and…driving a car.
But this is just the beginning. If the DRC goes the way of DARPA’s autonomous car races, we’ll see these bots clomping around in our streets, workplaces, and homes within a few years. They’ll respond to high-level commands from humans who direct them from afar, rather than remote-controlling them in the conventional sense.
Are we ready for autonomous humanoid robots? Like it or not, they’re coming.
From my story:
The robots of the DRC will be back on the field as early as this December, most likely much, much more capable than before, after their teams have a further year to work on improving the hardware and software that drives them. The eight best teams from the DRC Trials are in line for DARPA funding to help them along, but many of the others, including the all-volunteer team Mojavaton, will continue on their own dime, undaunted. Immediately at stake is a $2 million prize from DARPA. But more than that, the competition promises to launch yet another DARPA project from the realm of science fiction into the mainstream by once again proving the seemingly impossible to be, in fact, possible. The repercussions will be profound – our squeamishness about autonomous machines notwithstanding.