Introduction: Androids All Around Us
Y ou might not know it, but among us there exist artificial beings that are lifelike enough to give you goose bumps. If you had visited robot developer Rodney Brooks at MIT in the late 1990s, you would have met his Cog (short for “cognitive”) robot. Shaped vaguely like a human head and torso, and built more or less to human scale, Cog still looked alien and machinelike because it was made of girders and electronic components. Instead of eyes, video cameras located in its head fed visual information to its computer brain.
But when I saw Cog’s intricate body language, I forgot its ma- chine appearance.Although it did not look like a person, it acted like one.Those sensors and computers, motors and metal supports kept its “eyes”in continual motion,scanning the scene for interesting events— just as our own brains and eyes do at an unconscious level.And when the door opened and a student walked in, Cog did what you or I would; it stopped scanning and turned toward the visitor. As Cog brought its gaze and (apparently) its full attention to bear on her, the action was so eerily human that it gave me a moment of hair-raising, gut-level understanding, for in that instant, Cog seemed fully alive and conscious.