news    views    podcast    learn    |    about    contribute     republish    

history

Pulitzer-Prize-winning John Markoff has been covering the technology beat at the New York Times for almost three decades, and recently published Machines of Loving Grace – a book that chronicles the evolution of robotics and AI. In this interview we turn the lens around and ask Markoff about what motivates his interest to report on robotics, and how he sees trends in robotics today being informed by people and events from the past.

by   -   July 3, 2013

National Science Foundation (NSF) efforts to develop a mechanism to fund research proposals that had a high risk of failure, but which also had the potential for high return, began in 1980. In that year a task force was created by the NSF Advisory Council to look at the issue of “highly creative or innovative” proposals for which there was “a high risk of failure.”

The task force’s report identified two significant hurdles the NSF needed to overcome to support high risk/high return proposals:

by   -   March 14, 2013

Wonder_Stories_October_1931Study the past if you would define the future. – Confucius

War will always have a human element. Robots will be tools in future conflicts, just as they (and other technologies) have been in the past. To understand how robot use will evolve militarily, it is healthy to look back at history.

by   -   December 15, 2012

Aside from the conventional introductory texts on BEAM Robotics, control systems, electronics, and multi-axis mechanics, I always recommend books to inspire thoughts on robotic history, possibilities, and directions.

A great history of the robotic future can be found by starting through Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” anthologies (and the extending books “Robots of the Dawn”, “Caves of Steel”, etc). As with the Sherlock Holmes novels, Asimov’s stories are engaging, logical, quick to read, and, best of all, not bogged down by technical jargon. Written in a simpler time (starting 1930s), the “I Robot” parables revolve around the necessities of the humans involved, but as the series progressed over decades, Asimov’s machines evolve more interesting, sometimes pertinent, roles.

Stories of robot evolution are pandemic through sci-fi culture, and there are many pejorative “Frankenstein awakens and he’s pissed” sub-genres that burden the field. However there are some tales that explore why he’s pissed, and what sort of introspection it might take to calm him down (pitchforks not included). Two of my favorites along these lines are “Two Faces of Tomorrow” (1979, ISBN 978-1-59307-563-7) and “Code of the Lifemaker” (1983, ISBN 0-345-30549-3) both by James P. Hogan. Not only are these stories prophetic, but they deal with my favorite attribute of robotics, namely “Emergent Properties”, when a robot system does more than expected. A major part of the fun of research robotics — “Is it a bug, or awareness?”

There are many excellent modern mechanical missives, but one of the most brilliant details a realistic legal robot dystopia that’s free online. “The Robot and the Baby” by John McCarthy (2006) makes me glad robots are still mostly fictional and not subject to choking regulations and political tarnish. For now, the fun of building robots unfettered is secure, but this story reveals some disturbing possibilities and is my favorite cautionary tale.

And finally, I strongly recommend “Expedition — Voyage to Darwin IV” by Wayne Douglas Barlow (1990, Workman Publishing). This book is pure imagination in biology form, and fed well into my long-held bias that robots don’t have to just be copies of familiar earthly lifeforms, they could be nimble, exotic, enticing aliens. As roboticists, we can build anything, provided we’ve the inspiration, and this book is all about that.

Inspiration acquired. Now where’s my box of junk?

Read more answers →



Empowering Farmers Through Root AI
October 19, 2020


Are you planning to crowdfund your robot startup?

Need help spreading the word?

Join the Robohub crowdfunding page and increase the visibility of your campaign