Singularity News

Saturday, September 08, 2007

[Exclusive] Rodney Brooks Keynote at Singularity Summit

September 8th, 2007 Jonas Lamis

The Singularity Summit is a two day event happening this weekend in San Francisco. The event is being hosted by SIAI, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. This event is follow-on to last year’s Singularity Summit I conducted at Stanford.

Keynoting the event this morning was Rodney Brooks , of CSAIL and iRobot fame. Brooks spent his presentation discussing his perspective on the Singularity, and how Robotics (in particular the robots of iRobot and MIT) are advancing the science of Singularity enabling technologies.

Several times, Brooks referenced Arthur C. Clarke. He referenced Clarke’s quote of how technology capability is generally over estimated in the short-term, and underestimated in the long-term. This, Brooks believes is the most accurate perspective of what the Singularity is, and when it will come about.

Regardless of The Singularity, Brooks makes a persuasive case that “the future needs AI and robotics”. He referenced demographic trends – the aging global population, as the primary driver for a coming explosion in personal robotics. Brooks sees a near term future filled with venture financing and government funding to backfill the workforce of an aging and wealthy populous.

Brooks makes the case for applying exponential growth models to robotics. He used the iPod as a metaphor for exponential growth – forecasting that the iPod will hold the contents of the Library of Congress by 2013 and all movies ever made by 2020. In fact Brooks postulated the price / performance ratio for the iPod is calculated as:

$400 = 2 ^(year-2003) x 10 gigabytes

Brooks applied the model to autonomous robotic vehicles and referenced Stanford. He showed a video of a 1978 Robot cart that autonomously navigated 20 meters in 6 hours. Then noted that Stanley drove itself the length of the race in 6 hours in the Darpa Grand Challenge. He indicated that this means that the distance of autonomous guidance has doubled every 2 years.

Regarding iRobot:

  • Brooks confirmed that there more than 2.5 million IRBT consumer robots have be purchased.
  • Confirmed that there are 1000 Packbots in the field. He mentioned that this is out of a total of 5000 robots in the theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • He clarified that there are no armed Packbots in the field. He referenced the Talon as the primary platform currently being used for armament. He asked a rhetorical question about “when should robots have autonomous weapon targeting”?
  • He showed a set of pictures of a destroyed Packbot named “Scooby Doo” by its handler that was credited with over 15 disarmaments of IEDs.
  • He responded to a question about whether it was an ethically good idea to be developing AI and advanced robot platforms for the US Government. He deflected the question and stated that scientists must be mindful of the impact of their inventions.
  • Brooks was asked about why IRBT stock took a hit when it was announced that they are raising their R&D spending on commercial applications. He again deferred to comment specifically, but did note that he believes that there is a crisis in spending in R&D in the US. “This is a real issue, as companies get beaten down for putting money into R&D”. He notes that he has an article on this topic being published on on Monday.
  • Regarding emotional attachment to iRobot robots: Emotional attachment not a factor in military space. But is in home space. Where is Facebook for Robots? “Projection onto these devices that they don’t really deserve from a rational point of view, but we are not rational human beings.”

Regarding CSAIL Robots:

  • He spent time showing off the various emotional responses of Kismet. He discussed the visual attention system and illustrated the 3D emotional matrix used by the bot.
  • He also showed videos of Domo, a thesis project from Aaron Edsinger. Ednger has a new company in San Francisco called Meka Robotics, based on Domo research. A key concept is awareness of forces. Many movies of Domo are available on YouTube.


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