Star Trek's Data joins Robot Hall of Fame

by Paul Jay, CBC News Online

Real-life robots outnumbered their science fiction counterparts for the first time among the inductees to Carnegie Mellon University's Robot Hall of Fame, announced on Tuesday.

Star Trek's Lt. Cmdr. Data was the lone fictional robot among four inductees announced at the fourth annual RoboBusiness Conference and Exposition in Boston this week.

Joining "him" in the hall of fame were:

  • Raibert Hopper, a one-legged hopping robot build in the early '80s that helped roboticists incorporate the idea that, like humans, robots needed motion for stability;
  • NavLab5, one of a series of autonomous vehicles that could steer itself at legal speeds on everyday roads and in 1995 completed a cross-country tour of U.S. in which it did 98 per cent of the driving;
  • LEGO Mindstorms, a building set that brought creative robotics to the masses.

The character of Data, played by actor Brent Spiner on the sci-fi television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, received mention for his contribution to the questions of robot ethics and human/machine philosophies.

Juror Anne Balsemo, the managing director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at the University of Southern California, singled out the episode The Measure of a Man, in which the character is put on trial to determine whether he has the right to refuse to submit to a procedure that would disassemble him.

It was fine television, and especially timely now that robot ethics has taken off. Data's inclusion, however, also offers further proof that Trekkies can be found in every major scientific institution in the United States.