media & technology
With the return of Star Wars' R202, robots are back in vogue. But the reality is more impressive than the fiction, as a Scottish robotics showcase aims to prove. Words: Teddy Jamieson
What with alien invasions. ‘smart’ drugs and cyberspace. science fiction hasn’t had much time for the humble robot of late. Indeed. our pop culture image of the automaton hasn’t been updated since C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars all of twenty years ago. But if writers and filmmakers have lost interest in robotics. scientists certainly haven’t as a huge Scottish showcase. Robotix 97, reveals.
The event is returning to Glasgow this month after last year’s successful inaugural show. The I997 edition. open to the public at the city’s McLellan Galleries is, organisers claim. the - world‘s largest gathering of human bram' ‘intelligent machines. robot minds and technology gurus’ ever assembled outside the USA.
The programme is designed to stimulate interest in the field of robotics among the general public and the business community. It promises walking robots. talking robots. dancing and even acting robots. as well as talks from international experts in the field. Robotix 97 offers not only a chance to check on the current state of the art but also. in the words of one of the event’s organisers Martin Smith. ‘a glimpse of the future’.
According to Smith. head of mobile robot research at the University of East London, there has been growing commercial exploitation of robots in the 905. Besides their traditional use on the car factory assembly line, robots have been used in
94 THE LIST 7—20 Mar 1997
Within the next twenty years there may well be robots with the computing power equivalent to the
around 300 brain surgery operations in the UK alone. and a similar number of hip joint and prostate cancer ops. Robot nurses can be found performing fetch and carry tasks in some of the nation’s hospitals. Smith and his colleagues at East London are working on a robot night-watchman (on display at Robotix 97). and you can, if you want. now buy a solar-powered robot lawn mower.
‘Only live years ago.‘ Smith recalls. ‘people were saying this is not likely to happen in our lifetimes because we would never be able to cope with the safety problems of having high-powered heavy machines mingling with the general public. That problem has now gone away.’
Artificial intelligence is now the most dynamic area in the robotics field. As the possibilities and practicalities of computing continue to expand almost exponentially. we move closer and closer to the creation of a robot that can think for itself.
Smith. who will lecture on the future of robots and artificial intelligence at the conference, reckons robotics is currently at the same stage of development as computers were 50 years ago. but he expects it to catch up within the next decade. He suggests that within the next twenty years there may well be robots with the computing power equivalent to the human brain. ‘At that point you have an intelligent robot — as intelligent as you or I and maybe more so. You will have robots that are intelligent. conscious and have “minds”.’ Artificial life in other words.
Robots are. he believes. poised to transform the workplace. taking over menial. blue-collar jobs and pushing humans increasingly into the service sector. All of which suggests a visit to Robotix 97 just might be worthwhile if you want to keep an eye on future career competition.
Robotix 97 is at the Mclellan Galleries. Glasgow. 13-16 Mar. See Extra Time for details. and Star Wars feature, page 12. For ticket offer see Readers' Offers. page 104.
Lowdown Games - Web Sites - CD ROMS
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (Nintendo 64 £69.99)
Turok is one of the first releases for the N64 by a third party developer. Its shoot 'em up violence is a definite antidote to Nintendo's own cute little characters, and the plot sets you at loggerheads with creatures called Binosaurs — the primeval equivalent of The Terminator. The drop-dead gorgeous playing area takes in mountains, caves and jungle, and even the vegetation is animated. Killing something, of course, is not enough and you can continue mutilating and firing at opponents long after you've mowed them down. Turok is not perfect, but it bodes well for the N64's future. (JH)
Legacy of Kain
Mary Whitehouse would approve of Blood Omen even less that she would of Turok. If ever proof was needed that gore sells games, this is it. Having charted at number two in America, Omen now brings its gruesome gameplay to these more sensitive shores. Taking on the character of Kain, a vampiric anti-hero, you find yourself pitted against the usual array of bad guys. What grates is the laughter you let rip every time you kill, and the fact that to replenish energy you have to suck blood from the chained-up virgins you find along the way. Fine, if you like that sort of thing. (JH)
WEB SITE Absolut Vodka
Absolut Vodka has taken its artistic aspirations onto the Web with a site devoted to exploring the creative potential of the medium. The current issue focuses on Kevin Kelly's notions of biological and technological evolution. Kelly, executive editor of American Wired and all-round cyberdude, provides two interactive and supposedly artistic illustrations of his ideology, one of which continues the conceit about the appearance of the Absolut bottle, built up in the company's advertising. The slow speed of these evolutionary processes doesn’t help to maintain a viewer's interest for long, but at least the site is making some well-executed though tentative steps towards its goal. (JH)
REVIEWER THIS ISSUE: John Henderson
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