Two Paths Toward Our Robot Future

Shoppers admiring a fortune-telling robot at Selfridges, in London. Credit Photograph by London Express/Getty In 1970, Life magazine published an article about a Stanford University research project that had resulted in the construction of what it called the first-ever “electronic person.” This creature, called Shakey, was a six-foot-tall robot on wheels, and it looked like a filing cabinet carrying around an elaborate video camera. It was an early experiment in artificial intelligence, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA—the technological research arm of the Pentagon—and conceived by the Canadian applied physicist Charles Rosen. It was the first robot designed to be entirely autonomous, to reason and make decisions based on information about its environment. Shakey was intended as a prototype for more advanced automatons that would eventually…

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