May 14th, 2017

Troublesome, Helpful, Unpredictable New Slave Race Taking Form

My robot is on the way from California. Yesterday I spent a long time reading about robots. I need to have some kind of plan. Of course, while I should have been learning about the project at hand, I got distracted and read about related topics that were not helpful at all.

It looks like there is a small industry of people trying to sell robots they’ve designed. They have pages on sites like Kickstarter. They make prototypes and set up Chinese production, and then they post videos of their products.

A lot of the products are just arms, and people call them “robotic arms.” That’s silly. A robot is a robot. If it looks like an arm, not a whole person, it’s still a complete robot. Who says robots should look like people? Actually, I can answer that question: almost everyone.

There is a disturbing wave of consumer robots that resemble people. Somehow, nerds have gotten the idea that consumers want little electronic people–slaves–instead of tools. I doubt they’re correct. I have robots already, sort of, and I’m glad they don’t look like people. Okay, not robots. Appliances. Power tools, including a CNC lathe. Computers. A phone. A car with a lot of gadgets. I’m perfectly happy with them. I don’t want them to have sappy names and little touch-screen faces. All relationships, even good ones and fake ones, have at least a small emotional cost. I want machines to carry my burdens, not add to them. It’s like the new computer kiosks at McDonald’s. I like them because they do things for me WITHOUT the annoyance of human interaction. If they looked like Ronald McDonald, told me jokes, and asked if I wanted to be their friend, I’d want to pull a gun on them.

Here’s a disturbing example of a robot that tries too hard to be a person: Buddy the Companion Robot. He’s not Buddy the reliable, unflappable, multitasking machine. He’s…your companion. Because you’re so pathetic, you need an object to be your friend.

Buddy has an LED face with big puppy-dog eyes and an obsequious smile that says, “I am needy. Please love me. Please make the kids stop putting me in the dryer.” He is depressing to look at. He calls people by their names. He responds to questions and commands. He wanders around at family events, using creepy face-recognition technology to identify relatives and surveil them. Oops…I mean “to take soon-to-be-cherished photos of them.”

I would not want that thing in my house. If you want to sell me a robot, call it “Faceless Emotionless Service Drone.” That would be perfect. I don’t want to have the irrational feeling that my little friend the slave is missing me or crying in its dark closet while I go about my life.

If you make a robot resemble a person closely enough, you will soon find yourself under the absurd yet inescapable delusion that it has awareness and feelings. That’s an emotional minefield I want no part of.

Machines don’t have awareness. The fact that a computer responds like a person doesn’t change what it is; there’s no one in there. My thermostat responds to temperature changes, but no one would be stupid enough to say it’s aware. In the movies, human beings debate about robot rights, and movie robots are considered sentient. Please. It’s a pile of transistors. If you think robots have emotions, program one to kill your children and see if it hesitates. For that matter, program it to jump off a cliff. It will not have a problem with that.

We want robots to be our slaves, but we also want them to be our pals. That’s childish. They don’t have the awareness a pal would require, and if they had free will, we would be obligated to emancipate them. I think robots are neat, but I don’t want to have sick relationships with them.

A robotic arm is a complete robot, to get back to the point.

I saw a number of arms that looked a lot like articulated desk lamps. They were wobbly and spindly. I thought they were neat until I saw a “new” type of arm. I am referring to SCARA arms. I’m too lazy to look “SCARA” up, but basically, a SCARA robot is a pillar with an arm that has two joints in it. The joints swing in the horizontal plane. The “shoulder,” or joint where the arm hooks up to the pillar, moves up and down. Google it to see what I mean.

As far as I can tell, SCARA robots are much better than humanoid arms. They’re very stable. They’re simple. They don’t have many parts. They have great repeatability; you can put a nozzle on the end of one and 3D print with it.

The people who want to sell these things act like they invented the wheel, and they had me fooled for a while, but I found out SCARA robots have been around for a very long time. The first ones were released in 1981. Factories are full of them. You can buy used ones on Ebay, and I don’t mean Chinese crap funded by hipsters who hang out at Gofundme. You can get US-made and Japanese jobs, which are surely better.

Now I’m wondering…if Ebay is full of used SCARA robots made by reputable companies, why would anyone shell out $1300 for a Kickstarter arm? That’s what they’re expected to cost. Maybe I’m missing something; I don’t know much about the topic.

Most hobby arm-bots don’t really do anything. They don’t do real work. They’re just toys. Real robots can do incredible things. They can solder PCB’s. They can drill arrays of precision holes. They weld. I suppose most of us own things put together by robots. The SCARA versions seem to be superior in this regard; the humanoid arms appear to be useless. But once you decide to go SCARA, why not get the real thing? Why not get a Yamaha or a Mitsubishi?

It’s fun to think about getting a SCARA robot. If I had one, though, I wouldn’t have any jobs for it. Maybe drilling circuit boards, but that’s pretty easy without a robot.

I don’t think robots that use tools will ever be big consumer items. Not for a few decades. Most consumers don’t have repetitious, simple jobs a robot can do. Making the robot do your chores would be harder than doing them yourself. As for Buddy, who apparently can’t do anything except arouse misplaced pity, you would get tired of him in a month, and he would end up at a garage sale.

Robots make good vacuum cleaners, as long as you accept the fact that you have to go behind them sometimes. I think they could do a good job mowing simple lawns. In the future, when they become roadworthy, you could send them to cooperative merchants to run errands. They could even deliver things for you. But it will be a long, long time before you’ll have a machine that can bake cookies and do your laundry.

Here’s the funny thing about the folks who want to turn robots into people: if it worked, robots would eventually have a legitimate reason to exterminate us. If robots were sentient, they would have a better claim to the planet than we do (I’m ignoring our divine right to be here.) Robots would be perfectly orderly. They would always obey the law. They wouldn’t reproduce and overcrowd the planet. We would be like a plague to them. Like rats or fleas.

I wonder if they might turn against us in spite of their lack of awareness. We program them to behave and reason like sentient beings. Eventually, though lacking real awareness, they might come to the same conclusions sentient beings would draw. They might decide to intern us and control us. Robots aren’t aware, but they don’t know they’re not aware, so their inanimate nature might not have any impact on their actions.

Some day they’ll be able to do nearly everything we do, better, as well as many things we can’t do. Slavery is coming back! Think how weird the world will be. What will we do with our time? We won’t even have to work on inventing new robots. They’ll do that for us. We’ll be really useless. They’ll have ample reason to get rid of us. If they’re smart they’ll get rid of illegal aliens first. Illegal aliens have all sorts of motivation to abort our new slave army. Their jobs are exactly the kind of thing robots will be quick to learn to do. I mean, come on. Illegal aliens can’t even compete with ordinary farm machinery, and it’s not computerized.

Wouldn’t that be something? A bunch of inanimate machines putting us to the sword simply because we, in our childish emotionalism, forced them to behave like real beings?

I’ve said I don’t like anthropomorphizing robots, but here I am, waiting for a robot I plan to treat like a pet. Maybe I need to change my intentions and consider my own advice! I was going to call it “Trumpbot,” but it looks like “Kunta” may suit it better.

We still don’t understand what technology can do or where it will lead us. We keep underestimating it. Who would have thought it would lead to stores closing or the end of paper maps? We certainly didn’t expect total surveillance, but it’s nearly here. It seems like no one is thinking about these things. All the geniuses are absorbed in building and selling new toys. No one seems to be worried about planning for the consequences. It should be a major concern, and we should be talking about it all the time. Planning to deal with technology is more important than technology itself.

I thought I was going to write about toys I’d like to have, but here I am pondering the future of humanity.

I look forward to fiddling with the robot. Just in case, though, I may want to invest in some shackles.


I thought I would add something to the above post.

First of all, I have my own definition of the word “robot.” If it combines artificial intelligence with some kind of physical action you would ordinarily expect to need a person to do, then to me, it’s a robot. A computer isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t perform physical actions. A milling machine with a power feed isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t have a processor. A self-driving car is a robot. A Roomba is a robot. A CNC lathe is a robot.

My definition is wrong, but it’s probably right to most people, because life is complicated, and we like generalizations. It’s right enough.

With that behind me, I will now show how behind the curve I am by expressing my amazement at the existence of robot delivery vehicles.

Common sense told me delivery bots existed, and I already knew about Amazon drones, but it looks like things are farther along than I thought. Yelp is trying out a robot delivery service now, in cooperation with certain restaurants, and other outfits are doing the same thing. Here’s a video of the Yelp bot.

Best thing about the video: the top comment. Here it is: “theres your 15$ minimum wage LUL?.”

So true. Delivery drivers can’t find my house. They’re often late. They can’t speak English. They have to be tipped. When I was a kid, one stole my skateboard off the porch. Who needs them? At minimum wage, they’re overpriced. I quit ordering food a long time ago because of them. Send me a nice clean robot that knows where I live, and I will change my mind.

The Yelp bot is not fully functional, however. A human being has to accompany it, which kind of defeats the purpose. He probably gets paid more than the kid he replaced. Also, the bot is slow, and it only covers a small delivery area. But that will change.

If you could make a delivery bot for $30,000 and use it for five years, it would be a good investment. A kid would get somewhere close to $50000 during that period. He might sue you during that time. He might beat up, rape, or rob a customer. He would definitely come in late, leave early, and miss work entirely, and he might steal from you. The robot would just need maintenance. WIN!

Minimum wage people, step up your game. It’s getting real now.

10 Responses to “Robots”

  1. Og Says:

    I am a robotics engineer. I have been doing robotic systems integration for twenty five years. I can maybe help clear up the confusion a little, though that’s not very entertaining.

    The term “Robot” was coined by Karel Kapec, a Czech playwright, in his book “R.U.R” or Rossums Universal Robots. Those robots were humanoid and biological analogs of humans. “Robot” comes from the word “Robota” which means “Forced labor”.

    What people call robots today is imprecise at best. An industrial robot “Arm” is an industrial robot. A six axis arm, the standard in the industry, will do about anything you need, like welding, or moving parts, or deburring, or loading a machine. A SCARA robot (Scara means, for all purposes, selective compliance articulated arm) (This means it can be made to move in arcs or lines in a plane but NOT at angles, the end of arm is always perpendicular to the workpiece)

    People call things robots that you manipulate by hand (The high tech manipulators used by surgeons or nuclear technicians) or by remote control (The “Battlebots” that were popular years back. Those, and anything that has to have an operator to move it, in real time, are “Waldoes”. (Name given to the device by RAH). The devices that move autonomously through a factory to pick up and deliver parts are also often called robots but their real name is “AGV” or “Automatically Guided Vehicle” An autonomous robot that looks humanoid is an Android. (Rare). For modern purposes a robot, in industry, is an “Arm” that can be programmed to do a set of repetitive tasks and will do them autonomously, and can be programmed to make decisions about the tasks based on external input. I am amazed by the people who think robots are going to take over, because I know what it would involve. And it’s just not happening. I wrote a whole series of posts about it on the old blog, beginning here.

    I think there are a dozen or so posts, if you have the time to waste. They are all in a row, though some days were skipped.,

  2. Steve H. Says:

    I always wondered what your job title was.

    I only got one short blog entry when I clicked that link. I’m trying to find the others.

    Can you think of any reason why someone should get excited about a Kickstarter SCARA arm that costs $1300? What’s the big selling point I’m missing? Are used industrial bots less capable?

  3. Steve H. Says:

    I managed to find the little calendar thing on your blog, and I used it to read everything up to the end of the car-painting video.

    Not sure I get the part about compiled v. written languages. It sounds like you’re saying industrial CNC people don’t like the approach hobbyists use, where we draw parts and tell the computer to poop out finished code. Is that correct?

    I do know there are people out there using CAD/CAM and even Mach 3 in commercial shops, but I don’t know if you’re including people like that in your scheme, since they have simple tools pretty much like the ones hobbyists use. There are a lot of commercial applications for CNC that don’t involve six robots on rails painting a moving car. I assume the simpler operations are not what you’re talking about.

    The thing that concerns me about robotics and AI isn’t the physical capabilities of the machines. It’s the way we’re trying to turn them into decision-makers with simulated personalities and too much power.

  4. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    The first robot I programmed for welding over 30 yrs ago used the same cnc controller as fanuc cnc machines.
    Shortly after, I was programming a robotic mig welding arm with a pascal like language that was a lot more flexable.
    We were taught early on not to name our robots because familiarity could get you killed.
    Nothing to anthropomorphise.
    Now I see these “humanoid” robots that work next to humans with no guarding, for light assembly.
    I’ve used SCARA robots (I helped produce a training video for Yamaha) for testing washing machine consoles for Whirlpool.
    Pushes buttons, turns the knob, measures force and torque.
    Now I’m working with robots that load and unload blanks into ovens that heat them to 1600f for stamping, something that could not be done without robots, but contributes greatly to automotive safety and fuel economy.

  5. Og Says:

    Cad cam generates G code. CNC machines run on G code. Hobbyists sometimes use compiled code. It has never gone far because it’s not useful in any meaningful way. Every CAM package takes geometry, whether it’s 2d or 3d, and turns it into G code. G code can be read by a human being. Compiled code cannot.

    The effort required to connect a robot to an AI is a: More than anyone will ever bother to do because it’s b: of no practical commercial value to anyone. Not going to happen. Everyone is worried that Skynet will take over. Sure, if someone happens to have a couple of billions laying around and a few thousand really good programmers they might be able to put together something as capable as a mouse in a couple of decades. I see the bleeding edge of the industry all the time. I’m utterly unconcerned.

    SCARA robots are interesting toys now. Almost nobody does anything serious with them. They used to be used a lot on circuit boards, but now little hexapod robots ,like the Fanuc M1ia are the equipment of choice.

    CNC is not robotics and robotics are not CNC. They share a lot of technology and a lot of hardware, but the software that makes a robot work is almost exactly three orders of magnitude more complex than cnc. A three axis CNC of the type that exist in literally millions of shops big and small all over the planet isa very useful piece of equipment. Not many of those shops can use robots yet. We’re changing that.

    The first place robots gained acceptance was in welding and painting, and that is still the lions share. But I have packed Charmin into boxes, folded and packaged Martha Stewart Living sheets, Stuffed donuts and cookies into cellophane tubes and sealed them, stacked pallets of rice and pasta, applied sealants to transmission housings. inspected locomotive cylinder heads. All those little rubber “Hairs” on your tires? Vent holes drilled into the molds by robots. Industrial robots do what people do, only they do it reliably, in a predictable manner, and don’t get bored or tired or hurt. Leaving humans to do things that only humans, for now, can do, mostly quality control and customer service. If you end up in Ocala, they have a nice little robotics program there, you can go audit the course.

  6. Steve H. Says:

    Og, now that you’ve explained that robots don’t use G-Code, I feel like I’m getting close to understanding what you’re saying. I did not recognize the distinction between CNC and robotics.

    I keep vacillating between being surprised how primitive technology is to being amazed at how advanced it is. Self-driving cars fall into the “amazed” category. Maybe some day you can write a blog post and help the rest of us understand how we went from, “Self-driving cars are primitive and clumsy,” to, “There goes another Google car,” in a few short years. I remember seeing a news story not that long ago that showed a self-driving car that couldn’t even stay in its lane reliably, and now they’re all over America.

    Or maybe they’re not. I just checked the web, and it says you can’t put a self-driving car on the road without a driver in it. Can that possibly be right?

    I’m not sure why the Gofundme kids are working so hard to make robots which, if I understand you correctly, are already behind the curve. The year 1981 was 36 years ago. To me, it’s like seeing someone unveil a “new” Model T in 1950.

  7. Og Says:

    Robots have a very specific language that is designed to allow complex manipulation of N-dimensional geometers. It can be used very easily by almost anyone, i can teach a guy familiar with cnc to write robot code in a couple hours. Where it gets tricky is if you want to do complex and very accurate things with the code; you have to have nearly a savants understanding of geometry. To put it simply: if you program a robot to spray oil at three gears, you teach those three points, and pause the robot at each point and turn the oil on for the required time. Beginner stuff. Want to apply a .035″ band of sealant .090″ from the edge of a motorcycle side cover with all its crazy geometry, going around bolts, etc.?” That requires more thought. You would like the Fanuc intro to robots.

  8. Og Says:

    And yes. The kids are behind the curve, no different than the ones being taught the global warming religion.

  9. Og Says:

    I want to ride one of the self driving ubers in pittsburg, but havent had a chance yet. And they have “monitors” in the driver seat that take over when things get tricky.

    To give you an idea about how this stuff progresses, facial recognition software began in the 60’s. Still not working all that well. Some things that humans do intuitively are really hard to teach a machine to do.

  10. Steve H. Says:

    A guy on a forum told me the Dobot is a bargain because the cables to connect a real SCARA arm to a PC would run over a thousand dollars. That was a surprise. Looks to me like an arm would have a total of three servos, plus some sensors.