Robots Making Baby Robots?

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Not in the traditional way, of course. Researchers led by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with ETH Zurich, have built a “mother” robot that can independently build its own “children” and adapt the generations to be better without any human intervention.

Its true that robots have been used in automated production facilities for decades. The automotive industry is probably the largest but, you might be surprised how many companies in the food industry are using them also. This whole scope is a bit different. Automation is just that. Machines are programmed to build the base design of a product. Lets say an automobile. A designated program is called up and  followed with a listing of the correct parts. The robot scans to make sure it has the correct parts and installs them, welds bodies together, installs engine and gearbox, paints them etc…

THIS particular robot is building an offspring, a child. Then it’s assessing that child, picking the best traits and then building the next generation. Each ‘child” has it’s own specific genome pattern of up to five characteristics that vary between shape, how it’s constructed, motor commands and a few others and is examined upon it’s construction. The children are simple creations per se.

mother-robot-master-They are made up of small blocks containing motors and small blocks made of an inanimate material. Typically they are just glued together… for now. Once assembled, the motors are activated and the test is to measure the distance the little one can travel in a certain amount of time. You can check out a short video here. The mother assesses it and builds the next while transferring the best traits to the next one to improve its performance. In all successful experiments thus far; with each one containing 10 generations, the last generation typically moved more than twice the speed of the first. Starting with the same base “genetic algorithm”, as they are calling it, the robot calculated, learned and implemented the best “mutation” into every new creation. Does the process sound familiar? This is pretty much of what mother nature and the natural world already do. It’s called evolution. It’s not quite A.I. (artificial intelligence) as of yet. There’s no “self awareness” but, the learning capabilities of this type of programming are astounding. What would happen if this machine was left to continuously run and compile it’s data for days? for weeks? instead of just 2 hours.

As you read this, you may be flashing back to the  “Terminator” movies at this point and envisioning factories of smoke and steam turning out killer robots bent on the destruction of the plague we call the human race. Rest assured, we’re not quite there yet. For the sake of curiosity, what happens when robots like NASA’s Valkyrie, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas or even Honda’s Asimo just happens to get programmed with these learning algorithms? These robots are already designed to mimic a human and all of their movements in order to “help” humans in the future. Would it be mankind’s wildest dreams? or worst nightmares? Feel free to add your theory below. For the record, even Elon Musk and Steven Hawking are cautioning the development of A.I. If one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen is concerned, shouldn’t the rest of us be?

 

Sources: Nick, S. (2015, August 12). On the origin of (robot) species.

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