The Museum’s Health Sciences Department is partnering with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to publish a monthly series on the Museum blog called “Know Health”. The articles focus on current health topics selected by CU’s medical and graduate students in order to provide both English and Spanish speaking communities with current, accurate information. The posts in the “Know Health” series are edited versions of articles that first appeared in Contrapoder magazine. Thank you to the students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for bringing these stories to life.
(aka Dr. Nicole Garneau, chair and curator, Health Sciences Department)
Could a robot be our next President?
By Guest Author Jacki Essig
Jaclyn Essig is Neuroscience PhD student in the department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
It’s election season and to give you an idea of how the nominees are being received, “how to move to Canada” is among the top Google search terms in the United States! However, instead of fleeing the country, we should get more creative with our presidential election. Perhaps we should turn to robots!
What is a robot?
A robot is a tricky thing to define, but can be simply understood as any machine that takes in information about its surroundings through sensors (cameras, microphones, etc.) then uses that information to physically interact appropriately with its surroundings. An example of a robot found in many homes is the Roomba vacuum, which roams freely around a flat surface, quietly removing crumbs and dust from the ground until it bumps into an obstacle and must redirect its path to continue vacuuming. Despite its outward simplicity, Roomba embodies all elements of a robot.
Of course there are many reasons why Roomba wouldn’t be able to run the country (for one, it’s unable to communicate with people), but there are other robots that we should consider, like Sophia, a robot that looks, talks and behaves like a person. Sophia is one of many humanoids being developed by Hanson Robotics in Dallas, Texas. She is capable of mimicking over 60 human facial expressions, holding conversations, and forming opinions. The phenomenal ability of this machine to perform these feats comes from hours of social interaction as well as direct access to all available information on the Internet. However, Sofia has one major drawback while using the World Wide Web: she is unable to distinguish fact from fiction.
Humor me here. Let’s imagine that Sophia is actually capable of using her knowledge to make informed decisions for society—could we possibly be comfortable knowing a machine is running the country? Surprisingly, research has shown that robots can appeal to us at a very human level. PARO, a fluffy robotic seal developed by AIST in Japan, responds to being touched with coos and head bobbing, ultimately providing the same therapeutic and emotional comforts seen from interacting with pets. PARO has shown that people can receive the same benefits from interacting with a machine as they do from interacting with living beings. With a stretch of the imagination, it’s possible to see society embracing intelligent robots in a similar fashion.
Robot in Chief?
So can a robot become tomorrow’s commander in chief? The short answer: not yet. Today’s best performing robots are most efficient at completing one specific task, ranging from the mundane (attaching car doors in a factory) to the humanly impossible (traversing Mars). However, as we continue to push the envelope of what is possible with robotics, we may find ourselves voting for a very different presidential candidate in the future.