what is a robot, really?

1920Adrienne Lafrance at The Atlantic:

The year is 2016. Robots have infiltrated the human world. We built them, one by one, and now they are all around us. Soon there will be many more of them, working alone and in swarms. One is no larger than a single grain of rice, while another is larger than a prairie barn. These machines can be angular, flat, tubby, spindly, bulbous, and gangly. Not all of them have faces. Not all of them have bodies.

And yet they can do things once thought impossible for machine. They vacuum carpets, zip up winter coats, paint cars, organize warehouses, mix drinks, play beer pong, waltz across a school gymnasium, limp like wounded animals, write and publish stories, replicate abstract expressionist art, clean up nuclear waste, even dream.

Except, wait. Are these all really robots? What is a robot, anyway?

This has become an increasingly difficult question to answer. Yet it’s a crucial one. Ubiquitous computing and automation are occurring in tandem. Self-operating machines are permeating every dimension of society, so that humans find themselves interacting more frequently with robots than ever before—often without even realizing it. The human-machine relationship is rapidly evolving as a result. Humanity, and what it means to be a human, will be defined in part by the machines people design.

more here.

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