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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Robot risk 'is worth it'
Humanoid robot
Research into developing robots must continue despite the risks involved, an artificial intelligence expert has said.

Rodney Brooks, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Massachussets Institute of Technology, said: "The benefits of having robots could vastly outweigh the problems."


And he dismissed fears of robots taking over the world as a "Hollywood plot device".

Any new technology - such as a new drug or a new digital TV - could cause problems, he acknowledged.

But he said it was more important to understand how humans exist and operate in the world.

The meaning of life

"It is a quest that mankind has had for a long time: what is our meaning?", Professor Brooks told BBC HARDtalk's Lyce Doucet.

He went on: "Every technology, every science that tells us more about ourselves is scary at the time.


It's extraordinarily arrogant to say there are questions we don't need to ask

Rodney Brooks
"We've so far managed to transcend all that and come to a better understanding of ourselves.

"I think we're pretty much glad for it - glad that we have modern medicine, glad that we have technology."

But he conceded that there had been "some terrible things" along the way to progress which had needed controlling.

He explained: "Nuclear weapons are an example."

Rodney Brooks
Brooks: wants to ask questions
"It's reasonable to say that certain things we understand should perhaps have limits on how they're used and how certain technologies are deployed.

"That's very much what we should do as a society."

Professor Brooks said the nature of exploratory science meant scientists had to keep asking questions.

"I think it's impossible and extraordinarily arrogant of us to say there are questions we don't need to ask."

Human nature also meant that people always wanted to know answers, he added.

"To try to repress answers, repress questions, leads to the same sort of things that we were all horrified to see going on in Afghanistan under the Taleban."

Getting emotional

robot
Emotional robots: could it be love?
Robots will play an increasingly important role in our lives, said Professor Brooks, and the most sophisticated of them can already show emotions.

A robot called Kismet, developed in the professor's lab, is programmed to mimic expressions of emotion.

"If it is happy and you bring out a toy it may respond to it positively; if it's already annoyed at you and you bring out a toy and start waving it around, it might make it more annoyed", said Professor Brooks.


What does it mean to be really afraid, what does it mean to be really happy?

Rodney Brooks
What is unclear however is whether such simulation of emotions in robots is the same as experiencing them.

Professor Brooks said that this was a "deep question", but pointed out that humans are programmed in exactly the same way as robots.

The main question for him, he said, was: "Can we, as humans, ever accept such things as real? What does it mean to be really afraid, what does it mean to be really happy?"

He challenged people to drop the belief that humans are special, saying we should recognise ourselves as machines.

Although at the moment he treats his children as very special, he said "it doesn't mean that in the future I might not treat a machine with equal respect, or a kind of respect which is more than any of our current machines deserve."

The interview can be watched in full on Monday 19 August on BBC World and BBC News 24 at the following times:

BBC News 24 (times shown in BST) 0430, repeated 2230

BBC World (times shown in GMT) 0330, repeated 0830, 1130, 1530, 1830, 2330



HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian is broadcast Mon - Friday on BBC World and BBC News 24
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07 Aug 02 | Health
04 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
19 May 02 | Science/Nature
05 Feb 01 | dot life
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