Robots That Jump

Robot Bodies Needed Before Robot Minds

A Bit of Reality on The Verge

It’s wonderful to see a tech blog question its own quasi-religious assumptions – that humans have already create (it’s a conspiracy) a race of humanoid robots that will (1) revolt against us (2) have sex with us (3) bring us a beer. The actual state of humanoid robots is pretty lame compared to the movies, but you wouldn’t know it from CES last week. But here is The Verge pointing out that “booth bots” like the similarly hyped “booth babes” are part of the larger flapdoodle that characterizes our murky take on the future of robotics.

In the article by Russell Brandom, the notion that we are about to have humanoid robots in our society is skewered for what it is – tech bible (the Revelation part).

CES’s robotics booths have a surprising number of anthropomorphic bots, and most of them seem indifferent to the latest displays and processors. They’re working another angle, something much closer to kitsch. Human robots are fascinating, but their fascinating quality doesn’t have much to with the technology at work behind the scenes. It’s aesthetics, not technology


Robothespian, whose antics are described by the article is doing EXACTLY what Electro was doing at the 1939 World’s Fair.

film-from-1939-Worlds-FairAnother great quote from the article:

In the modest goal of tempting people into your booth, these robots are doing better than a lot of the more impressive tech on the floor. As it turns out, that game is more about the human reaction than anything that happens on a circuit board.

In other words, our desire to believe that Robots That Jump actually exist is fueled by our perception that “technology is getting so much faster every day” and that means there must be real robots running around. But this desire was the same in 1939 as it is in 2014. And nobody can really show what people want to see, so there is a quick retreat into computer-generated animation fantasy.

Computer-generated fantasy robot punches kid

Now, if you really have to make a big metal puppet, how about going beyond this idea? You can find exactly the same scenes in the (surprise) 1939 movie “The Phantom Creeps?

Bela Lugosi in The Phantom Creeps

(go about 3 minutes in to see the robot, who is concerned about household neatness)

The conclusion here is that our desire to have robots is is consistent, but our ability to make them, even today, is big metal puppets. There has been some progress in 80 years – witness the December 2013 DARPA Robotic Challenge – but it is nowhere near our fiction.

And what we want the robots to do (crack jokes, fight, play guessing games) is something a Neanderthal 40,000 years ago would have no problem understanding.


4 responses to “A Bit of Reality on The Verge

  1. The VelociBos February 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    The Robots that we already see controlling society are those that aren’t humanoid. Twitter is essentially a robot, as is google.

    • pindiespace February 16, 2014 at 6:28 pm

      True, some definitions include software-only systems. But the definition of robotics here is a device that can sense and react to reality, not purely symbolic information. The site is Robots That Jump, which is about reality-based robots, rather than those in a human-created, abstract digital world.

      Software online processes data in an “intelligent” fashion, but it is not sensory – it is pre-processed symbolic information (e.g. text, digital images). The software cannot deal with reality directly. Given such constraints, the software does not have to act like the popular preception of an “artificial intelligence.”

      To see it another way, driverless cars work if you make the streets look like a computer simulation, and provide lots of symbolic data (e.g. GPS) to help them move. They fail miserably with the same data an animal uses to navigate in the same space.

  2. robotstofzuiger November 11, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I am desperately waiting for day when that robot from the movie irobot of will smith actually comes to life.

    • pindiespace November 11, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      Proves the point! People want robots, and they’re pretending they are “scared” of them. It’s similar to Jurassic Park – the movie starts with “thou shalt not tamper with Nature” and immediately jumps to massive, awesome genetic engineering in the name of fun. People really don’t see a problem with bringing back dinosaurs (and they won’t when they bring back early humans via DNA. The question is the dream of humanlike robots is possible with current technology (read computers) – probably not, since the brain’s hardware isn’t remotely like a von neuman architecture linux box often used to create robots. For now, they are big electric puppets.

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