05 February 2013

Machine people

Because the problem of curing biological aging is so complex, an intermediate step toward life extension which has been proposed is the development of artificial bodies into which the brains of elderly people (and later perhaps just minds, once computer brain emulation becomes sophisticated enough) could be transplanted.  For this to be a satisfactory option, robotics would need to be able to replicate the capabilities and even the appearance of the human body very accurately, but technology is already more advanced in this area than many realize, although no one has yet made such a good imitation that an observer would actually be unable to distinguish it from a real person.  These videos are from Japan, which is, as far as I know, still the most advanced country in robotics:



One of the more challenging problems has been walking and balance, which require surprisingly sophisticated systems in actual humans, given our upright stance, so unusual in the animal kingdom.  We've made some progress there as well, however.





One necessary area where robotics lags behind is the replication of human senses.  Robots can see and hear well enough, but generally cannot feel, taste, or smell, since these abilities are not necessary for most tasks for which we currently use robots.  It's the makers of prosthetic limbs for amputees who have the most reason to be working on a sense of touch.

Obviously this technology still has far to go -- but with the pace of progress today, I suspect we'll see startling results within the present decade.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

It seems as if we may be entering the world of GHOST IN THE SHELL...that series (both in its original manga and the animated films and TV shows based on the manga) did speak about the use of "prosthetic bodies" for people whose own bodies were ravaged by disease--transfer the brain and spinal column and integrate them into the bodies.

In all iterations of GITS, though, there was always the discussion of the _implications_ of this technology--the age-old question of "what does it mean to be human?" and also, "where does the machine end/the person begins?" and the concept of "man-machine interface".

Thanks for this--and yes, when it comes to bipedial, humanoid (and human-looking) robots, Japan is still the leader. Chalk that up to a certain boy robot that appeared in manga close to sixty years ago....

05 February, 2013 10:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It often seems that the arts do a better job of exploring the philosophical implications of impending technology than philosophers do. I'm not familiar with Ghost in the Shell, but Blade Runner, for example, confronted us with the implications of machines with self-awareness equivalent to human.

I don't recall offhand any treatment of the issue of actual human minds uploaded into machine bodies, but I suspect such issues will not much worry individuals whose lives can be saved by such an innovation.

We've had technology whose implications disturbed people before -- birth control and even lightning rods were fiercely debated when first introduced -- but when the technology comes into common use, we seem to adapt to it just fine.

05 February, 2013 12:28  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Good point about BLADE RUNNER (one of my favorite films, pretty much). In regards to GITS, you can always run a search and give it a look. It's been regarded as--and rightfully so--one of the best cyberpunk works in recent years, even thought the manga first started back in 1989-1990. From there, it's expanded into two movies, two television shows (animated) with one more on the way, and a host of other merchandise.

The manga and TV shows/movies are available in English...pretty good stuff, in my opinion.

And it was also inspired by BLADE RUNNER....;)

06 February, 2013 20:53  
Anonymous Bacopa said...

Japan is the most advanced in robotics? Big Dog and LS3-Alpha Dog from Boston Dynamics would like to have a word with you.

07 February, 2013 20:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

MM: Thanks for the reference, sounds interesting.

Bacopa: Not familiar with those, I'll have to check them out. The more people are working on robotics, the better.

08 February, 2013 05:45  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Thanx for the video's Infidel. I done a posting sometime back on robotic love, marriage, etc

08 February, 2013 14:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RC: It's not much of a secret that the possibility of robots for sex is one of the other motives for developing this technology.

09 February, 2013 09:52  
Anonymous Bacopa said...

Here are some vids of the Boston Dynamics robots in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1czBcnX1Ww

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOkXRXZIFxs

11 February, 2013 22:46  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Bacopa: Those are impressive, but what I'm looking at here is replication specifically of human functionality, including walking upright, which is a more difficult problem than walking on all fours. Still, it's striking how distinctly animal-like the reactions of the "big dog" robot are when pushed or slipping. They do seem to be replicating the way natural organic systems work, which will be the key to successful copying of the human body as well.

12 February, 2013 01:38  

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