Robots That Jump

Robot Bodies Needed Before Robot Minds

Monthly Archives: February 2018

Irascible Robots (not ‘fighting back’)

Robots That Jump are designed to interact in the real world, ignoring the silly fantasy of creating ‘mind’ in a machine in order to interact. The removal of that phantasm leads to better operating devices. And there’s no better illustration of this than the recent Boston Dynamics video of a robot trying to go through a door, hindered by a human.

In the video, you can see the robot opening a door, oddly by using its combined head/arm to push it open and move through. The human does several things to stop it – including changing the door position and dragging the robot away. After each attempt (which might be compared to a child tugging on a dog trying to drink) the robot returns to its course of action.

From the perspective of Robots That Jump, this is awesome. BD had integrated one of the basic features of life – irascible behavior. This goes all the way back to Aristotle’s, Augustine’s and Thomas Aquinas’s idea of the properties of life, hardcore link here.  Basically, ‘dumb animals’ – those with now elaborate ‘mind’ to understand the future can have a passion, or emotion that drives them to their goal against obstacles. You see this in the simplest forms of life – an energy to continue existing or accomplish a goal. Suppose an earthworm lands on a sidewalk. Its initial desire is to get back into the ground. However, the ground is concrete. A ‘rational’ worm, or a typical robot would just stop at that point. However, the worm wiggles wildly and in ways that are not normal for it, continually trying to do something that gets it closer to its goal. Sometimes a thrash and a roll might land it back in the grass, and the worm returns to its wormy world.

Note no ‘mind’ is needed for this – just an initial drive to accomplish something, plus unexpected resistance which is matched with (creative?) exploration of ways around the obstacles. This is one reason emotions are believed to have evolved. Emotions don’t provide a computed solution – they drive an animal to accomplish things when it runs into resistance. Nor is this exclusive to animals – plants react irascibly to rocks and sidewalks in the way of their roots, exploring around until they run into a solution. In that case, there’s not only no mind, there’s no brain. None needed for the plant, or a Robot That Jumps.

However, the pop-culture vision of robots as godlets who will overthrow us or have a “message” to give us (see the miserable “robot citizen” Sophia) can’t see this robot as doing something robust and lifelike. Instead, they imagine mind…a mind storing up all the grievances of insults received, for a later reckoning with humanity.

The science-as-magic media (including so-called “science journalists” who, for example never bother to ask if it is even possible to for Elon Musk to physically move a million people to Mars by 2062) portray the Boston Dynamics robots as having conscious mind, unjustly attacked and thwarted. Additionally, they see a grudge developing which will be paid back.

This is crazy.

Does a tree get made and plan to “get even” when we put concrete over some of its roots? No. Mind and payback are the province of very advanced social animals, where remembering benefit and harm from other members of your social species is useful. Most animals and plant’s don’t bother with it at all. But they do have irascible behavior.

However, a robot carrying a grudge fits into the techno-religion that has replaced classic religion in the supposedly secular world of the tech hipster. It’s a belief system that sees us rushing to Apocalypse jwith us tech-sinners incapable of properly worshiping the gods we have created – for which they will either punish us a.k.a. Skynet, or replace us, a.k.a. Singularity. To be taken seriously, tech-prophets like Musk and Hawking must warn us of the anger of the gods, and demand our repentance (I guess that means buying more iPhones faster).  We must eat of their flesh (“embedded computing”) to preserve some particle of ourselves in their awe-ful and righteous power.


This is just an earthworm trying to get home.