Where are the robots?

A robot in your future?

From the article:There are a few more home robots than that. See Home robots you can buy (including the comments) for a good list of what is out there.

It sounds very much like Engelberger was just slightly ahead of his time. Back in the 1950s, people were also predicting chess computers. We did not get chess computers able to beat great human chess players until the 1990s (see Inexpensive Chess Computer Holds Its Own Against Grand Master), and that took highly specialized hardware. It took 40 years for there to be enough CPU power to compete with the human brain in the field of chess.

Robots need even more CPU power, especially for tasks like vision processing. That is what has held robots back. However, the needed amount of CPU power will become available within the next 20 years or so. At that point, the floodgates will open. See Robotic Nation and Manna for details.

Animals have been useful to humans for many centuries, yet many animals seem to get by in the wild with limited visual processing power. If a human brain requires 10^14-10^17 operations per second to simulate, then the brain of a stout infantfish, the smallest known vertebrate, should only require 10^7-10^10 operations per second to simulate if it is as complex for the fish's size as a human's brain is for a human's size. Assuming standard phylogenetic relationships, it should be another 100 fold simpler than that. This fish manages to see, though I doubt anyone knows how well, but it presumably does it with the same basic neurological setup as other fish, some of which see reasonably well. It looks to me like if we knew how we could simulate a whole vertebrate, visual cortex and all, on a laptop, or in some small cheap piece of custom hardware, and could then program it for various functions. Hardware doesn't seem to be critical.
I work in automotive engineering. I think general purpose robotics will require more than just software and CPU. A general purpose robot will need to be a robust and durable device. Especially once you begin to rely on it. I think one of the challenges will be purely mechanical. A general purpose robot will have lots of moving parts, many designed at the limits of manufacturing and material limits. Once the software and CPUs are there, there will still be a lag as money from sales pays for the learning to make them robust.
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