Tuesday, July 20, 2010

American mindset of purposeful advancement

Popular Science had an article in their recent August 2010 magazine about humanoid robots. It was specifically about RoMeLa's (Virginia Tech) Charlie-L and how it's basically the first and only humanoid robot in America, where as Asian countries have loads of them (think ASIMO, etc).

Here was one quote that I found intriguing and that slightly sums up why America doesn't have more humanoids:
(Daniel Lee, co-runs RoMeLa):
"If you write a proposal here for a robot that plays music, you'll have a very hard time finding funding. What's the practical purpose?...Yet if a robot improvised a jazz performance, it might teach you all sorts of things about artificial intelligence and even human intelligence. There's more openness to that kind of investigation in Asia and Europe. Here the focus is on a well-defined problem."
I have seen this in American thinking and it frustrates me. There are some college students who made an interesting breakthrough in technology, interfacing, or control. They describe it all nicely and you get to the end and they give their cobbled-up answers to what this could be useful for. You can easily tell they are thought up to work with their professor's assignment or to make sense to a sponsor. Then they continue to explain half of their other work, which is how to eventually integrate this technology into our lifestyle. What's wrong with exploring technology for the purpose of exploring it? Sure, the process and information can be formatted so that someone later can use it for something helpful and the work shouldn't be "pointless." But sometimes the purpose should just be to learn more about ourselves, our world, and what we can do with it; that kind of knowledge is beneficial and exciting enough. There doesn't always need to be an initial problem.

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