FRANKENSTEIN’S CREATURE OR COMMANDER DATA?
ing robot that can recover from a fall by standing up again, on its own—a feat matched only by the Sony QRIO unit.
Things are done differently in the United States. Rather than assemble massive focused programs, the government funds research on robots (and every other kind of science and technology) from a variety of sources. Some supporting agencies, such as NASA and the National Science Foundation, have civilian orientations.The research they fund is part of a climate where science and technology are meant to enhance society in general. However, a large fraction of U.S. robot- ics research has a different goal.That is the work in robotics supported by the Department of Defense (DoD), mostly through DARPA, which “pursues research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions.”
Developing robots and related technologies for warfare is a wor- thy goal if it makes the battlefield less dangerous for humans: If we must fight wars, let us fight them with machines, not people (al- though the morality of this stance could be compromised if the ma- chines are self-aware, or if the use of robot soldiers encourages some nations to believe they can go to war without any human risk or cost).And apart from its military orientation, DARPA funding has led to important results that have had some direct and positive effects on society: The Internet, for example, began under DARPA auspices. Nevertheless, there is an essential difference between targeting re- search for military use that might have beneficial spinoffs but might also be kept secret, and specifically aiming for civilian applications, as the Japanese do, and openly disseminating the results. Rodney Brooks, inventor of Cog, notes that when he became director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the late 1990s, 95 percent of the Laboratory’s research was funded by DoD. He thought that was “too much, from any perspective,” and with additional corporate sponsor- ship, reduced the figure to 65 percent.
The differences between U.S. and Japanese research reflect na- tional priorities and necessities. Japan has no equivalent to the enor- mous U.S. defense establishment, and its government funds research