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Analyzing What Robots Tell Us About Human Nature: A Q&A with Will Wright

Posted by ballightning on March 24, 2009

Scientific America has interviewed Will Wright on what robots tell us about Human Nature. There is some great facts from this article about Will Wright and robots. One of these is that Will and the filmmaker Mike Winter created a club based on robots called the Stupid Fun Club and on more then one occasion, they have been known to let their creations loose on the street and to film bystanders’ incredulous reactions.

When did you first become interested in robotics? Was this before you became a software designer?
Yes, that’s actually kind of what got me into software. As a kid, I spent a lot of time building models and, when I became a teenager, I started adding little motors to my models to help them move around. I bought my first computer in 1980 actually to connect to some of these robots and control them. That’s basically when I taught myself to program and got very interested in simulation and artificial intelligence [AI].

What about robots interests you the most?
I think it’s the same thing that interests me about modeling and simulation. Robots really are in some sense an attempt to model human abilities, whether they be physical or mental abilities. We think about robots as surrogates for what we can do. Robots are also interesting for what they tell us about ourselves. You don’t really understand how complicated a human hand is until you try to build one. A lot of things we take for granted—for example, natural human abilities— when you go out and try to re-create them you realize how extraordinary they are. Robots represent our attempts to understand what it means to be human.

A few years ago your group, the Stupid Fun Club, a Berkeley, Calif.–based robotics workshop, seemed most interested in analyzing reactions to robots by taking your creations out on the street for people to see. What are you focusing on now? What’s most relevant at this time?
There are a couple projects we’re working on, but I can’t really talk about them now. Hopefully, that won’t be the case in a few months. We’re still very interested in basically the way people choose to interact with intelligent machines.

What have you learned from your observations about people and technology?
We’ve found that it’s hard to separate humans from their technology, which is developing so rapidly. Intelligence is embedded in the tools we surround ourselves with. Whether it’s GPS (global positioning systems), cars or even automatic light dimmers in our homes, we’re building a technological exoskeleton around us as a species and starting to off-load more and more autonomy into it. We’re basically delegating more and more decisions to the technology around us.

Read the Full Interview


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