Inspiration / Musings / My Stuff

I for one welcome our robot overlords

A music playing robot
Toyota robot at the Toyota Kaikan in Toyota City. Photo by Chris 73 March 9 2005.

So I’m writing a story about sexbots…it’s not what you think, but it means I’m reading a lot about the future of robots and AI.

Now, robots are already living among us – they clean, deliver your meals in the hospital and greet you at your hotel – but so far even the most human are, well, not very. However, reading some of these articles, the possibility of a humanoid robot seems more plausible than ever.

Of course, this leads me to ask the question will humanness be necessary when we’re made obsolete by the singularity, but that’s a whole other post.

This post doesn’t get too deep – check this out for more musings on what a future filled with robots and AI means for us – instead, I thought I’d share some of the interesting articles* that I’ve come across while working on my short story novella around the advances that make a humanoid robot plausible, including synthetic muscle, self-healing ‘skin’, and even perspiration.

Oil-electric muscles to get our robot moving

Or a ‘“hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic” actuator, or “hasel”.’ Yeah.

Basically, the gist is a ‘muscle’ made from oil-filled pouches activated by electricity, allowing for more natural movement than the current electric motor joints. The potential here is not just our future Data-like android. This has promise to allow for more natural prosthetics.

This development is part of a whole field of soft robotics, aiming to build softer, more flexible robots capable of more natural movements. But one of the challenges with that softness is it’s more prone to damage.

Self-healing skin ’cause poor bot has a booboo

That’s were self-healing skin comes in. Okay, it’s not actually skin. It’s a temperature-sensitive elastomer – the microscopic bonds break down when heated and reform as it cools. Right now it takes a long time, and requires that someone notices the ‘skin’ needs healing, but they’re already working on the next stage, which is a material with sensors so it could tell our future robot when it’s injured, or just suffering wear and tear.

But why replicate muscle when you can build a cyborg

I’ll admit muscles made from oil and electricity are cool. Given all of the organic components we can grow in a lab nowadays (including lab-grown meat), there is also the possibility of real, live, lab-grown muscle. And skin, and blood, and all sorts of other bits and pieces. Suffice it to say, maybe our future robot will actually be a cyborg – some flesh, some fluid, some central processing unit.

(Mostly I wanted to include this article because the image of the muscle cells is mesmerizing. )

A robot that’s too perfect for comfort

And yes, there’s even a robot that sweats. You might not think a sweating robot is useful. But it’s not all about us (and soon it may not be about us at all). This sweat is useful to the robot. Okay, it’s not actually sweat, but it is water, flowing through its porous aluminum frame, with the purpose of cooling the thing down. So it functions kind of like perspiration.

Creating bots in our own image

All of this leads to the question of why are we trying so hard to create a more human robot? Is there a real, objective value, or do we humanize them for our own comfort? Or maybe we just want to see ourselves reflected in our creations? I don’t know, but it makes for an interesting story (I hope), though very different from Bloodborne Pathogens.

*Thank you Wired for your continuing story inspiration and blog fodder.

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