Robots, RoboEarth, and Meno’s Paradox

Caught this story on BBC’s Technology site:

Robots to get their own Internet

By Mark Ward

European scientists have embarked on a project to let robots share and store what they discover about the world.

Called RoboEarth it will be a place that robots can upload data to when they master a task, and ask for help in carrying out new ones.

Researchers behind it hope it will allow robots to come into service more quickly, armed with a growing library of knowledge about their human masters.

“Most current robots see the world their own way and there’s very little standardisation going on,” he said. Most researchers using robots typically develop their own way for that machine to build up a corpus of data about the world.

This, said Dr Waibel, made it very difficult for roboticists to share knowledge or for the field to advance rapidly because everyone started off solving the same problems.
By contrast, RoboEarth hopes to start showing how the information that robots discover about the world can be defined so any other robot can find it and use it.

RoboEarth will be a communication system and a database, he said.

In the database will be maps of places that robots work, descriptions of objects they encounter and instructions for how to complete distinct actions.

The alarmist, most irrational parts of my brain are screaming, “JOHN CONNOR, JOHN CONNOR!!!” while the less panicked parts question whether an Asimov-ian robopsychology degree will be of some use in the future.

Since the article isn’t very informative, I’m left wondering exactly what these robots are capable of “learning” and how they learn it. As a matter of fact, it reminds me a little of Plato’s Meno. I don’t know if psychology or neurology has ever provided an answer to Meno’s paradox, but to what extent can a programmed robot be said to learn anything? Is downloading data and executing the stored processes the equivalent of knowing something?

And what’s the best way to distinguish between an exceedingly complex system of hardware and software and the human brain? I suspect there’s a difference between sophisticated circuitry and the neuro-genetic makeup of a human being, but I’m not sure I could make the distinction hold were the synthetic creation sophisticated enough. Unless, of course, we want to make souls a part of the equation.

Of course, as a precautionary measure, I would still like to see all these scientists recite the Three Laws of Robotics before putting RoboEarth online.

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One comment

  1. […] week, I posted an article about RoboEarth, a sophisticated networking utility that will help robots “learn” information that […]

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