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Essentially, CMG is trying to give Ripley, and in turn, other robots, the power to interpret language and conversation the way a human does, making inferences from what is said, and how it is said, what is in front of them, and having the ability to respond based on those interpretations and stimuli.
The notion of a self-sustaining robot is not entirely out of the question. An article in IEEE Spectrum (the world's largest professional technology magazine) entitled "Robots can ape us, but will they ever get real?" discusses the possibilities, ponders "...whether we will ever create human-level consciousness in a machine".
The article goes on to discuss several robots that have the ability to feel "mood" shifts due to environmental changes, and ones that can react to temperature, pressure, and textures. One such creation is Quasi, an experiment of several Carnegie Mellon students, intended to mimic the actions and motivations of a 12-year-old boy. Quasi can literally express what he is "feeling" using his ability to change his LED eye colors, based on his environment and changes in it.
These super-bots are not the norm, however. In fact, robotics are most commonly employed in the construction of arms/hands that lift and reach for things that humans cannot (think factory-line assembly (Robots.com ), or the robotic arms seen in the movie "Dave", where Kevin Klein jokingly uses them to tell an assembled crowd about a large fish he supposedly caught).
These arms are also being experimentally used in the field of prosthetics, and to assist the disabled in general. For example, several mainstream papers (such as the New York Times) discuss a paralyzed man named Matthew Nagle, who has been given a brain implant that allows him to control a computer, a TV, and a robotic arm with a prosthetic hand. Mr. Nagle is one of the first to use what is known as a "brain-computer interface" (sometimes known as a "direct neural interface" or a "brain machine interface"). The operation was performed at the New England Sinai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Stoughton, Massachusetts.
This type of research, known as neuroprosthetics, combines robotics with neuroscience and computer science to help those with disabilities.
So if the trend continues, and these experiments eventually turn out a robot whose intelligence and sensitivity rivals our own, what can we expect? Some predict that robot intelligence will equal, then surpass our own. This theory, known as Singularity, was popularized by a computer scientist/sci-fi author named Vernor Vinge, in an article written in 1983.
The theory has been picked up, and dissected, by roboticists and scientists around the world. Some argue that human supremacy will end, others say that we will be able to essentially upload our brain into a computer and live forever. And one roboticist, Hans Moravec, predicts that a massive machine intelligence will absorb the universe, us included.
Essentially, it is predicted that super-human intelligence will simply create other machines, rendering us powerless and leaving the path open for machines to take over.
This theory of Singularity has been called "the rapture of the nerds," and is dismissed as nothing more than nonsense. Most robots, however, do not even resemble what Hollywood has created, physically speaking. So it is doubtful that we will see any robots of free will anytime soon.
Even in light of all of these innovations, talking robots, sensitive robots, and even robots that become a part of us... a robot with the mental capacity of opinions and thoughts is still in the distant future, and not yet a reality.
It is pretty clear that we are still a long way from having robots that could double as humans in our abilities of communication. So for those in fear of a hostile robot coup d'etat (or simply terrified, as I am, of the concept of having a programmed political pundit to go along with the rest), rest easy, for now at least; robots are still only here to help us humans out.
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There is a great collection of fun robot toys and tools at including these fun finds:
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The Voice-Activated R2-D2.®
This motorized replica of the droid from the "Star Wars®" films responds to voice commands, and navigates rooms and hallways.
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Advanced Acrobatic Robot
This is the advanced programmable robot that can walk, run, kick, stand on one leg, turn cartwheels, and dance right out of the box. The mechanical humanoid is controlled by 16 powerful digital servomoters, built specifically for this robot, that allow the robot to perform numerous acrobatic maneuvers previously beyond the capabilities of most commercially available robots.
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The Customizable Interactive Robot Kit
This 500-piece kit assembles a motorized robot with pre-programmed movements and sounds that bring it to life and make it capable of walking and dancing.
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The Robotic Dinosaur
Sensors in this dinosaur detect sound, movement, and touch, so the robot reacts to the environment around it. Can also be guided using the handheld remote.