Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The robot does NOT act like a toddler

The headline was interesting enough; “Robot acts like a toddler.”

Yeah, whatever, I thought. Robots of today build cars, vacuum floors and, much like R2-D2 in “Return of the Jedi,” fix drinks on Jabba the Hutt’s barge. I bet none of these robots throw toys, pull the cushions off the couch, or run through the living room naked. If they do, that’s not listed in the sales brochure.

A group of Japanese scientists from Osaka University built the robot – with the Star Wars-esque moniker CB2 – to better understand child development, as opposed to the old-fashioned way of observing actual children.

CB2 can change its facial expressions and rock back and forth, which comes in really handy when scientists are gauging the effects of Iron Maiden on children under three.

The robot can speak using what the scientists call “an artificial vocal cord.” I’m glad they didn’t use the vocal cord from a real child, although if they did the screams would have been more realistic when somebody tells the robot it can’t have another cookie.

CB2, much like your uncle at a family reunion, wobbles when it walks and bumps into things, but at 4 feet tall and 73 pounds does a lot less damage when it runs into the Precious Moments collection. That could be bad or good, depending on your point of view.

"Our goal is to study human recognition development such as how the child learns a language, recognizes objects and learns to communicate with his father and mother," one scientist said.

Again, why the robot? Wouldn’t flesh and blood children help scientists more than Cabbage Patch Kids made scary? Yes, but I have two theories as to why mechanics were favored over biology.

1) In high school, these scientists sat with wedgies at the Dungeons and Dragons table at lunch dreaming of the day they’d be able to marry an actual girl and have a real baby, but that day never came.

2) They think we were all hatched from eggs.

So, how should scientists study the behavior of our children; empirical observation or animatronics?

My solution – Pinocchio. Sure, he’s carved out of wood. Yes, he drinks beer and smokes cigars. And, I’ll admit he was, at one point, turned into a donkey. But, if you want an accurate gauge of human development, you can’t do better than a wooden boy – look at (insert politician’s name here). And, the best part, there are no legal ramifications if you set him on fire.

But there will be a day human-like robots will walk among us. Once robots really start to act like toddlers, they’ll be more like those robots that take over the planet in blazes of gunfire and Austrian accents.

And, no, I’m not going to spank one of them, they’re just expressing themselves the only way they know how. You’re a big robot … yes you are. And big robots don’t shoot Mommy and Daddy and expect to get anymore TV tonight.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt