In the movies and on TV, robots can talk, think, and follow instructions. The reality, of course, has always been very different. But that may be changing.
A new robot, Marge, is part of this change. Reading is one of the many skills that has always been tricky for robots. Sure, they can recognize text, but robot brains don’t understand change the way human brains do. Humans can read big and small text, in dim or bright light, at a rock concert or in a soundless room. But for a robot, any change in the surroundings changes its whole activity. A misspelled word was an obstacle. Robots didn’t figure out or guess until now.
With a software combination of a dictionary and spell-checker, Marge can guess the meanings of misspelled words. She can read a newspaper and use the information in it to answer questions, even if it means dealing with typos or different sized text. Marge’s brain is functioning more like a human brain.
Marge isn’t the only one. Robots are evolving. Scientists are now trying a new technique when designing robots. Instead of trying to create the perfect program for a robot’s task, scientists are making robots that learn. This means that scientists input different, shorter programs for different parts of a large task. Then the robot, through trial and error, can evolve to make the best combination of parts. Scientists are using this process to help a robot teach itself to fly. This is very similar to Darwin’s process of natural selection.
Robots have made a lot of progress in the last 50 years, but they’ve always been hindered by their difficulty with change. Designing new robots that can adapt, guess, and learn means that huge leaps in robot intelligence might be in our future.