« All Episodes: Gigaom – AI Minute December 7

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Science fiction has a long history of showing us robots in various incarnations and manifestations. There’s sort of two different variables that are tweaked in the various stories. One is the naming of the robot, in terms of how human-like it is or how robotic, and the other one is the voice and demeanor of the robot as well.

You can think of the universe of Star Wars and you can think of C-3PO, which of course has a very roboty name but has a voice that is human and is in fact played by a human. You have R2-D2 who is both robotic in its name as well as in its voice. You have Commander Data in Star Trek, who is a robot who sort of walks the middle of the line. He’s got a name, Data, but of course it’s not really a human name, but he talks like a human, though there are variants to it. He doesn’t use contractions, for instance. Other incarnations you think of, “Danger Danger, Will Robinson” which sounds mechanical. As well as in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a mechanical voice was used.

These, kind of, various ways of handling it are driven by fiction, because at the same time that we need to show that the robot is in fact a robot but also has non-robotic characteristics, those various factors are emphasized. One wonders, however, how that’s going to play out in the real world.

Science fiction doesn’t just predict the world, it often drives it. Clearly Star Wars would be a different sort of film if C-3PO were named Herbert and R2-D2 were named Sam. It would just add a different tone to it. So, one wonders, as we develop more and more robotic devices, how we’re going to want to interact with them. I think it’s certain that we’re always going to want to know that we’re dealing with a robot as opposed to human, but how that is conveyed to us, I think, is still up in the air.