19 November, 2008

This is just ridiculously cool...

4 comments:

higgy said...

Ridiculous, yes.

But why does he insist on calling them "animals"? Half of everything he said suggested that these mechanical beings were primitive organisms in every sense of the word.

"They will learn to live on their own... The winning codes will multiply."

And,

"...evolution has generated many species. This is the Animarous..."

Good grief. Brings to mind this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digesting_Duck

These contraptions are not capable of giving birth or "multiplying". They are certainly not capable of learning. They are programmed, and are not capable of doing anything more on their own than what they were designed for initially. I think that his insistence on pushing this theme is really misleading and an insult to biologists and geneticists.

In fact, the whole thing is a bit insulting to all scientists considering the opening lines of the movie. "Once a year, 1000 remarkable people gather in Monteray, CA, to exchange something of incalculable value: their ideas. What happens there has never been shared... until now. TED, ideas worth spreading."

Basically, a secret meeting of geniuses has finally bestowed upon us their brilliant ideas - since up 'til now, none of the countless ideas proposed at any of the hundreds of annual (open) scientific conferences are worth spreading. Right.

Alright, all that complaining aside - there is a lot of merit to this. The best bit was the shot of the robot carrying a heavy load across the beach. The utility of this would be clear to anyone doing construction or industry in desert climates, I'm sure. The contraptions were very elegant, too. Quite beautiful to watch. They certainly would do well as an art installation.

spencer said...

True, they can't reproduce, but they do have some rudimentary intelligence. What's particularly cool about them to me is that they're entirely mechanical. Moreover, they've surpassed digital robots in many ways. How many years did it take to develop a computer-based robot that could walk on its own? That could avoid water and dry sand? That could detect an oncoming storm and pin itself to the ground?

Besides, I like the idea of wandering the beaches of Holland and finding herds of PVC-pipe robots.

You're totally right about the TED thing. In fact, a long time ago I had written most of a post about why TED and similar conferences are basically vapid entertainment for the rich and powerful...but then I deleted it. But, yeah, it really bugs me how they (a) present research in a fundamentally unserious way, (b) gloss over the thousands of very unsexy hours it took to complete that research, and (c) ignore the tens of thousands of very unsexy papers that are presented at the aforementioned open scientific conferences every year.

higgy said...

I wouldn't say that they have any intelligence, except in so much as a pocket calculator has intelligence. Instead of pressing the "2 X 3" keys and the calculator giving me a "6", the robots take in the input of "resistance in an air tube" and output "turn in opposite direction". They don't actually think "whoa, water here, that could be bad - better turn around". I could see how a robot that is capable of that kind of internal dialogue being able to learn and grow beyond it's original programming, but not the ones in the video. It's a small point, I know, but an important one.

You're right, though - their structure (all PVC pipe) is really cool. It helps you visualize how stress is distributed and how a rudimentary computer can operate.

In the field of robotics and motive transport, I'd say these are a really important breakthrough. For other fields, it's old hat.

Elliot said...

I, for one, welcome our PVC-pipe overlords.