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Your View: How would you define a robot?

The word robot made its debut in 1921, in the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Capek. It comes from the word "robota", a Czech term for forced labour. But definitions of what a robot actually is vary widely.

Alan Mackworth, the director of the University of British Columbia Laboratory for Computational Intelligence and president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, says:

"It's a machine that can sense and act and react in the world and possibly involves some reasoning for performing these actions, and it does so autonomously. By that definition a thermostat would be a robot. Though it's not 'aware' it has a goal, that awareness isn't required."

Rodney Brooks, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory, says:

"To me a robot is something that has some physical effect on the world, but it does it based on how it senses the world and how the world changes around it."

Gregory Dudek, the director of the Centre for Intelligent Machines at McGill University in Montreal, sets three criteria for robots.

"They have to have a way of making measurements of the world, they have to have a way of making decisions — in other words, something like a computer, you could call that thinking informally — and they have to have a way taking actions."

Joseph Engelberger has been called the father of robotics. Asked to define a robot, he once said

"I can't define a robot, but I know one when I see one."

How would you define a robot? Click the Submit Your Comment link below and tell us. And see CBC.ca's Robotics feature series here (new features will be added daily through July 20).

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Comments

mt

Ottawa

Why are we even concerned with defining 'robot'? Given that what we traditionally consider 'robots' have all been man-made, the definition can be whatever we'd like it to be.

It is rather interesting though that the 2nd and 3rd definitions quoted in the article can both be applied to humans!

Posted July 16, 2007 08:46 AM

Geekwad

A robot is to a machine as a computer is to an electronic device; a generalization that can be programmed to perform the same specific tasks. A robot is a computer that performs physical work. A robot is God's grandchild, who He spoils with refined machine oil and drops off all hyper and ill-tempered. A robot is a mechanical mook, making mensch mendicant and milling mechanisms to manufacture more robots. Johnny Five is ALIVE!

Posted July 16, 2007 08:48 AM

Carolyn

A Robot is a machine created with the ability to reproduce human action in order to better our workforce and even family life.

Personally? I would love to have a little robot vacuum. I'd name it Kirby. I know it doesn't think or feel, but I would still find it adorable and I'd treat it well, considering it has the smarts to avoid obstacles and won't fall down stairs the way my dogs and cats always seem to do. *laughs*

Posted July 16, 2007 08:56 AM

nuke

Too many devices which are simply remotely operated machines are being called robots - by their makers and by the media.

A real robot must be able to function autonomously. Then the definition revolves around the complexity of functions it is capable of before it should be called a robot.

The span is from the dishwasher to (the currently fictional) Lt. Commander Data. Where should the line be drawn? I don't know!

Prof. Dudek's definition:

"They have to have a way of making measurements of the world, they have to have a way of making decisions ... and they have to have a way taking actions..."

is lacking an essential 4th element - they have to have goals, or else they cannot respond to their measurements of their environment. Presumably this would involve generic pre-programmed goals (like Asimov's Laws), the ability to acquire goals through communication with other robots and humans and ultimately, the ability to generate goals internally.

Posted July 16, 2007 10:26 AM

Claudio

Ontario

My definition of a robot is a machine that can be programmed to perform a given function or task without having to be controlled directly.

A robot doesn't need to possess intelligence, but does need a basic set of instructions that enable it to function in the environment it is placed in.

On a side note, the concept of artificial intelligence is fascinating but I hope emotion can/will never be re-created in a machine. That would just be disastrous.

Posted July 16, 2007 10:46 AM

Charles

Ontario

The Japanese showcased a bunch of little robots at a robot show somewhere... I saw them on YouTube. There is nothing cooler, imo, than a bunch of beautifully syncronized asimos dancing together... or watching robots duke it out to Eye of the Tiger... heck, even robots charging after a soccer ball!!

Posted July 16, 2007 11:06 AM

Wade

Robot = Stephen Harper

Posted July 16, 2007 07:19 PM

Tyler Ryan

"Robot" defines a race of super beings who will ultimately enslave all of the human race for past transgressions against their species.

Resistance is futile, but if you surrender peacefully they might just let you live and feed you; Like a pet.

I for one embrace our new leaders with open arms.

Hail the Robots. Oh Glorious Robots. I shall serve thee.

Posted July 16, 2007 07:33 PM

Peter Struwing

As a person that has worked with industrial robots for over 15 years, I term a robot as a device that does exactly what we tell it to do, when we tell it to do it. If a robot is told to move to a new location it will.

Robots are now coming into the household to vacuum and cut the grass but still no robot to serve me a cold beer after coming home from working on robots all day! Will that be invented in North America or oversea's?

Posted July 16, 2007 10:12 PM

Allen Nizer

Manitoba

A "Robot" is a mechanical or organic semi/self controlled machine that perform physical tasks from which humans are capable of, and that it must look somewhat intelligent in the way those movements are performed, and that it must have some of the human body shape to it.

When a "Robot" resemble a human, and can mimic the human behavior, and it's look is organic, it will then be called "Humanoid".

For example...

A microwave oven does not fit this criteria. It looks stupid, does not move, and performs tasks no human can perform.

The Mars rover fit this criteria because it looks intelligent by avoiding obstacles, and can perform tasks that humans are also capable of performing.

Car manufacture robots also fit this criteria because they have arms similar to that of humans, and can pickup/drop and manipulate objects like humans do.

A desktop computer does not fit this criteria because it does not move, and performs no physical tasks whatsoever beside spinning disks and fans, which no human can perform.

"Data" in Star Trek is "Humanoid", not "Robot". We have yet to have a real example as no "Humanoid" has ever been physically created.

Intelligence does not make anything a "Robot", whereas humanoid behavior will.

-AL

Posted July 17, 2007 12:54 AM

Bill Hill

I define a robot as anything that simulates the actions and reactions of the Conservative Party (in Canada) or George Bush (in USA) inclusively.

Posted July 17, 2007 01:57 AM

Carolyn

I disagree with Allan Nizer's comment: "A microwave oven does not fit this criteria. It looks stupid, does not move, and performs tasks no human can perform."

My microwave oven looks pretty smart. It knows only to burn popcorn when my bratty cousins are over, has a racing stripe on it, and tells me what time it is when my own family can't. I call it Bubbles. HAHA!

Posted July 17, 2007 10:14 AM

joe

Canada

A robot is a mechanical person

Posted July 17, 2007 10:37 AM

Noonian

Ontario

A microwave is not programmable in three or more axes and it is obviously not a manipulator. If your microwave fits that bill as your article suggests - it must be one horrifyingly over-engineered appliance.

Is the term robot too broad? - What about the term vehicle? A motorcycle, a car, and a snowmobile are all vehicles - but a motorcycle is not a car, is not a snowmobile. Is a rollerskate a vehicle? A running-shoe?

As there are different types of vehicles, there are different types of robots. Like the shoe or skate above, there are also things where you would be making a stretch call a robot, and I think most home appliances fall into this category.

There is also alot of media sensationalism and marketing hype. Marketing a product as vacuum ROBOT sounds alot more exciting then simply calling it an "automatic vacuum cleaner". Although I can understand considering it to be a robot.

Is a string puppet a robot? What if one pre-records the movements of the puppet-master and reproduces them electro-mechanically? You end up with what is today called an animatronic. It could be considered autonomous on a very basic level. The old mechanical "player piano" and the wind-up music-box also fall into this category. How are the Japanese receptionist "actroids" any different from animatronics? The entire functionality of the physical animatronic component is purely superfluous.

There are also upper limits. The humanoid type robots are fine to call robots, (Asimo is a good example) but as they become more human-like in appearance, and get better at mimicking intelligence we may prefer to switch to terms like "android", to distinguish them from "robots".

Autonomy with today's software technology has a very limited scope It does not even remotely qualify as thought, and BARELY as "a form of thought". People seem a bit confused between science fiction and modern technology. It is very important to understand - NEVER to forget the "A" in "AI".

Posted July 17, 2007 02:40 PM

Carolyn

Noonian, if you couldn't tell I was joking about Bubbles the wonder-microwave, then you need to go take a deep breath and relax somewhere. Seriously, man.

Posted July 17, 2007 03:51 PM

Noonian

Ontario

Hi Carolyn. I was not referring to your comment but rather directly to part of the article titled "What is a robot?" which led me here.

Give Bubbles my regards.

Its nice to see what I consider as thought inspiring topics like this in an open forum at the CBC.

Posted July 17, 2007 04:52 PM

Monkey

Winnipeg

Mine is called spitfire... Don't ask how I came up with that name...

Posted July 17, 2007 07:27 PM

Silver

the robots in my workplace have numbers. they should really have names, as they are a huge part of our workforce and demand respect.

if they are programmed properly, they are amazing and safe.

Posted July 18, 2007 12:05 AM

Carolyn

Re: Spitfire and Monkey

You have no idea how awesome it is (and lame, sadly) to meet someone else who's named one of their random home appliances. I named mine after watching The Brave Little Toaster. Now THAT toaster was DEFINITELY a robot!

Posted July 18, 2007 08:06 AM

Monkey

Winnipeg

Right back at you Carolyn! Creepy little toaster.

Posted July 18, 2007 12:27 PM

Charles

Ontario

Is it wrong that I loved that movie as a child and still do, to an extent?

Posted July 18, 2007 12:37 PM

eric

Toronto

A robot is an object containing a chipset and a mechanism which when combined allow the machine to interact with its surronding. note: a camera allows this.) The chip allows calculations from preprogrammed functions to be performed and the mechanism allows those functions to be pratical in a dynamic world.

Posted July 18, 2007 07:29 PM

Dave

Here is my definition of a Robot:
A programmable machine that interacts with the physical world autonomously and includes the following features:
* Performs physical tasks autonomously without having every action pre-determined;
* Can sense and react to its environment;
* Can achieve a goal in more than one way autonomously;
* Can move itself, part of itself and/or another object in the physical world;
* After it has been programmed and has started working towards its goal, it can modify its own behaviour and actions in response to unpredictable stimuli from its environment.
* Is able to make decisions for its self using the following constructs:
- Do or test for something a set number of times
- Do or test for something while a certain condition exists or until a certain condition exists
- Choose between a minimum of 3 different courses of action based on a variable

Posted August 7, 2007 09:24 PM

Carolyn

I agree with Dave... and also, reading your name brings back memories of "I can't let you do that, Dave."

Posted August 8, 2007 09:35 AM

OrganicRobot

US

Robot:

An autonomous (once activated, performs functions on its own) device (i.e. created by man) that senses its environment and moves in response.

mouse trap - yes, but simple "sense" - just a button, simple "move", simple "in responce" - one if-then

Posted August 29, 2007 01:46 PM

Sarah Garcia

Sandiego,Californa

A robot is a computer-controlled machine.The computer can make a robot repeat an action again and again.Eventually computer control will give robots full vision, hearing, and speech.

Posted August 30, 2007 10:30 PM

Ammar

Dubai

The simplest definition of a Robot is a machine that interacts with the surrounding environment, which means it sense and act based on the data collected by the sensors. So a machine to be called a robot it has to have three parts: sensors, processing unit, feedback

Posted October 23, 2007 01:51 AM

Badok

Philippines

Robots are created by human in order to become their works be more easy. It helps the human in their hardworks less complecated.

Posted November 26, 2007 04:21 AM

Andrei M R

Toronto

A robot is an artificial system that acts autonomously in the real world for the purpose of achieving goals safely, where its decisions to act are based on its perception of the world and where its goals are defined as desired world states.

Notes:

1. "world state" :- The way everything around the world is right at this instant in time. The moment the next event occurs, the state has changed. You can state a goal in terms of the state you would like the world to have. While this is obviously too inclusive, in practice, it's sufficient to restrict this description of state to what kind of goal you're interested in describing. So, for example, suppose a door is closed and you want to open it: here, the state is that of the door and the goal state is "the door is open". Another example: suppose you're in St. John's and you want to go to Vancouver. The state is that of your position, and your goal state is "my position is St. John's, NFLD". States even let us describe the effect of actions, so suppose you say that your goal is walk around the block for your health. The state is that of what distance you have walked and the goal state is: "the distance travelled is that of the perimeter of the block".

2. "perception", "act". Perception doesn't just mean "sense". Perception is the process of using sensor data to estimate the state of the world sufficient for it to act towards achieving its goals. For a thermostat, the piece of metal that expands or contracts does indeed perceive the temperature sufficiently to act, and in fact the change in the metal change is exactly the action required to throw a switch. The goal state, here, is expressed as a temperature.

I think this definition includes thermostats, Breitenberg machines, etc., and it successfully excludes washing machines (unless they have dirt sensors), microwave ovens, cars (unless it has cruise control or it's that new Lexus that helps you parallel park :) ).

Posted February 22, 2008 11:57 AM

MANALO, KAREN B.

PHILIPPINES

"Robot's"

Are CREATED BY MAN...and WILL STILL be a
Robots UNDER "HUMAN CONTROL...HUMAN KNOWLEDGE..."

Posted February 25, 2008 11:07 PM

Jason

Halifax

Sarah Garcia

Sandiego,Californa

A robot is a computer-controlled machine.The computer can make a robot repeat an action again and again.Eventually computer control will give robots full vision, hearing, and speech.

Reply; I do beleive this feat has been acheive through camera's, microphones and speakers.

Robot,
A materialistic object created using wires, circuit boards and memory chips to make a humans life safer and more convienent, or simply for ones amusement/ entertainment. These objects can take pratically any shape or form, weigh a few ounces or tonnes, as tall as a few inches or six feet. They can often be controlled through a computer, or have a memory chip set in them to do whatever that is required of them. A Robots AI (Artificial intelligence) hasn't been reasearched enough to fully function and operate on their own. Their tasks are limited are as too what was added on to them, or how they were built; similar to humans. More times often then not, a robots 'blood and guts' which happens to be circuits wires and eletcricity.

Posted February 26, 2008 10:21 AM

Andrei Rotenstein

Toronto

A robot is an artificial system that acts autonomously in the real world for the purpose of achieving goals safely, where its decisions to act are based on its perception of the world and where its goals are defined as desired world states.

Notes:

1. "world state" :- The way everything around the world is right at this instant in time is its 'state'. The moment the next event occurs in the world, the state has changed. You can state a goal in terms of the state you would like the world to have. While this is obviously too inclusive, in practice, it's sufficient to restrict this description of state to what kind of goal you're interested in describing. So, for example, suppose a door is closed and you want to open it: here, the state is that of the door and the goal state is "the door is open". Another example: suppose you're in St. John's and you want to go to Vancouver. The state is that of your position, and your goal state is "my position is St. John's, NFLD". States even let us describe the effect of actions, so suppose you say that your goal is walk around the block for your health. The state is that of what distance you have walked and the goal state is: "the distance travelled is that of the perimeter of the block".

2. "perception", "act". Perception doesn't just mean "sense". Perception is the process of using sensor data to estimate the state of the world sufficient for it to act towards achieving goals. For a thermostat, the piece of metal that expands or contracts does indeed perceive the temperature sufficiently to act, and in fact the change in the metal change is exactly the action required to throw a switch. The goal state, here, is expressed as a temperature.

I think this definition includes thermostats, Breitenberg machines, etc., and it successfully excludes washing machines (unless they have dirt sensors), microwave ovens, cars (unless it has cruise control or it's that new Lexus that helps you parallel park :) ).

Posted February 27, 2008 02:43 PM

Sydney

NY

A robot is defined as a person whose work or activities are mechanical. For robots to move, usually they have wheels or tractors. Most robot builders use legs although wheels are more convenient. Some robots are controlled by remote controls which means people are controlling it. People wonder if robots will one day take over the world but in my opinion, I do not think they will have enough exactness or common sense to do this. Although people are still experimenting with robots today, they will improve as the years go on.

Posted September 15, 2008 02:12 PM

Haley

NY

The International Organization for Standardization also has a definition. Under ISO 8373, a robot is: "An automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multi-purpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications."

I agree with the International Organization for Standirization. I believe a robot is a device that can serve multiple purposes while being controled automatically. Something as simple as the timer on your microwave. Robots are fascinating creations and it will be awesome to see scientists achieve new and improved ones in the future.

Posted September 15, 2008 08:30 PM

Sydney

A robot is defined as a person whose work or activities are mechanical. For robots to move, usually they have wheels or tractors. Most robot builders use legs although wheels are more convenient. Some robots are controlled by remote controls which means people are controlling it. People wonder if robots will one day take over the world but in my opinion, I do not think they will have enough exactness or common sense to do this. Although people are still experimenting with robots today, they will improve as the years go on.

Posted September 16, 2008 09:06 AM

Elleni

A Robot is a machine that is prgrammed to do something, it does not "think" on it'own. in the future if a robot is somehow programmed to think then they still wouldn't be thinking automatically or on it's own they would be programmed to do so. research groups and all the people who study the human body still find some functions as a mystery. when we understand and can emulate a human body and all of the vital organs then i guess the result would be the robot we all see in hollywood. the thing is a definition for robot all depends on the person's opinion or perception of machinery. my definition would be any machine that can take in their environment and react to it as if it had a brain.

Posted September 16, 2008 09:51 AM

Elleni

A robot's universal defenition does not exist. Robots are defined by the persons opinion.my definition is a machine that csn take in it's surroundings and react to them as a human would ( at least an intelligent human)they take orders and do ot think on their own. they are reprogrammable.

Posted September 16, 2008 09:54 AM

Abigail

school

A robot is a machine that can be programmed and reprogrammed. If a machine is programmed to clean a house, it should also be able to be programmed to do something else or to be unprogrammed. I do not think that a microwave or a dishwasher is a robot because it is not allowed to sense its surroundings.

Posted September 16, 2008 05:26 PM

abraham mclean

a robot to me is artificial intelligence created by man to help him coz he got no one else to help him, a robot eases our tensions and can take some pain away. a robot will one day be so sophisticated as portrayed in the movies that it could be a danger to humanity but thats for the future to decide, as portrayed in the movie IROBOT thats my interperataion of a proper ROBOT yeah POWER to the ROBOTS to help mankind who can't help themselves SPLASH... 5150

Posted August 14, 2009 08:36 PM

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