A look at what – and who – is pushing the future in new directions

May the Future be Filled with Dancing Robots

Dancing Robots - via Metro.co.ukIn 1983, David Chambers asked a group of children to draw what they believed scientists to look like. He compared the children’s perception to reality and recorded his findings  in the article “Stereotypic Images of the Scientist.”

Recently, researchers at Illinois State University repeated the test, this time substituting “scientist” with “robot.”  Psychologist Corinne Zimmerman and engineer Kevin Devine presented 143 schoolchildren, between six and 10-years-old, with the proposition, “Draw a picture of a robot doing something robots often do.”

What the children drew, according to Zimmerman, showed a “clear stereotype of robots.” The children drew robots that were square and autonomous, engaging in activities such as household chores and homework (keep dreaming, kids). Around 30 percent of the children drew robots engaged in “robo-boogieing.”

29 of the children involved in the study were then pulled aside and taught about what robots currently do in the “real world.” These lessons included a trip to see an industrial robot in action. Later asked to redraw their vision of a robot doing robot things, 28 of the children sketched robots more akin to the industrial mechanoid they had seen.

Three months later, those 29 children were asked again to complete a drawing. For the most part, the change in perception had stuck and a majority of the children drew industrial, human-operated machines.

Zimmerman claimed that the lessons had shortened the distance between fantasy and reality for the children. She opined that the acceptance of realistic robots would “help students move into related careers.”

However, not everyone is excited about Zimmerman’s opinions on converging realism and creativity. Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield in the UK, worried aloud about the “damping of ideas” and was doubtful whether acclimating children to the realistic robots of today would inspire them to build the robots of tomorrow.

Surely, the Wright brothers dreamed of wings before they ever flew. I would also be willing to bet that more aeronautical engineers were inspired by Buck Rogers than the WWII rockets that formed much of the foundational research that they continued. Surely, the future is defined more by the impossible than the possible.

For that reason, I say don’t let the robots stop dancing.

(image via Metro.co.uk)

Article By: Forest Taylor

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