Today’s Flash Back Friday comes from Episode 96, originally published in July 2012.
How can robotics teach us about history, while showing us the future potential of technology? Hollywood depicts robots overthrowing the world. Is this actually possible? Join Jason Hartman as he interviews Professor of Biology John Long about how using robotics can help us understand evolutionary processes. Professor Long and his team build autonomous robots, including biomimetric robots, to study animals, living and extinct, learning how they behave and adapt. Professor Long’s specialty is fish, such as sharks, eels and dolphins. The robots are built to mimic the real creatures, some built as predators, some built as prey, and all are built to behave. As these robots make their own decisions, scientists can study the evolution of the robots to their ecological environment. Jason and Professor Long talk about the “growth” of the autonomous robots, generation to generation. They also touch on robotic cars that are becoming so efficient and adaptive that they are potentially better drivers than human beings. Professor Long discusses the usefulness of evolving robots. Humans are curious and robots can do things that people don’t want to do or can’t do. There are many practical applications for robotics, including rescue operations, space exploration, medical procedures and replacing dull human activities. There are also issues that can be debated about the use of robots or drones for surveillance or attacks. Jason and Professor Long discuss the possibility of a “proxy war,” how robots are currently used in warfare, and when we can expect to see autonomous robots that can learn and adjust accordingly on the battlefield.
John Long is a Professor of Biology and Cognitive Science at Vassar College. He serves as the Director of Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, which he co-founded, and the Chair of the Department of Biology. Long and his robots – called Madeleine and the Tadros – have garnered widespread press coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post, among other publications. He and his robots have taught evolution on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. He lives in Poughkeepsie, New York.