English 24


When famously renowned1 cellist Yo-Yo Ma announced that he would be playing with the Detroit Symphony, every seat in the house was sold. As the lights dimmed and the conductor2 stepped out onto the stage to direct the musicians in a song called “The Impossible Dream.” Until recently, that is exactly what this performance would have been. However, ASIMO, the conductor, is a robot. The Japanese scientists who built ASIMO equipped it with the ability to run, climb, kick a ball and recognize faces. It can therefore3 help musicians make beautiful music.

Japan has more robots than any other country. Four out of every ten worker-robots are found there, and the Japanese government is spending millions of dollars in the building of4 even more. Why the rush for more electronic helpers? More than one-fifth of Japan’s population is 65 or older, so there are not enough young people in the workforce.5 Many of Japan’s robots are designed to interact with people. An egg-shaped robot called PaPeRo assists teachers by singing and reading to kids. One Japanese hospital has three shiny robots that help out in the waiting room. They have become an integral part of the hospital and are fascinating to children.6

Robots have been creeping into7 daily life for years. Since the 1960s, they have been doing jobs that are too boring or dangerous for humans. Some stand for long hours in factories, packaging food, or putting8 together cars. Others milk cows on dairy farms all day long. These machines, called industrial robots, are often bolted to the floor. Contrary to the case of ASIMO9, they do not have a humanoid appearance.

Now that robots are moving into our homes, in fact,10 many are starting to look more like us. Trevor Blackwell’s company, Anybots, makes robots. He built a dish-washing humanoid robot called Monty. To reach the sink, Monty needed to be between five and six feet tall. The robot needed a human-like hand to pick up coffee cups also11. [12]

“Once you make a robot for human environments,” says Blackwell, “you end up getting closer and closer to a human shape.” Colin Angle, the chief of a company called iRobot, believes that there are “few things cooler than a humanoid robot.” But he points out that its13 not always necessary to build robots to look like people. His company makes a disc-shaped vacuuming robot called the Roomba, more than 3 million of which are14 already in use.

Will the robots of the future look more like Monty or the Roomba? Either way, Blackwell is happy to hand over the boring chores. “I’d rather have a robot do dishes,” he says. Wouldn’t you?” [15]