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WTF: Robot Punches Human Subjects to Learn the First Law of Robotics

14 Oct 2010

In his short story collection I, Robot, Isaac Asimov laid out the Three Laws of Robotics, a set of underlying principles that scientists in the field of robotics now try to strive towards. Naturally, for a robot to interpret the three laws would require a much higher level of artificial intelligence than is currently available. But in a robotics lab in Slovenia, Professor Borut Povse devised an unintentionally hilarious way of teaching robots the first law: having them repeatedly punch test subjects to “learn” the human pain threshold.

Asimov’s First Law of Robotics states that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. In a process Povse calls “impact emulation”, an Epson production-line robot was fitted with either a blunt or sharp tool and then programmed to punch six human subjects 18 times at different impact energies. The participants would then rate the collision on a scale of “painless” to “unbearable pain”.

All six volunteers were male colleagues of Povse’s at the University of Ljubljana, which gave him ethical approval to conduct the research. The whole thing is a bit absurd and totally sketchy, if you ask me. (How awkward must it be for six grown men to get pimp-slapped multiple times by a mechanical arm?) Still, even if killer robots don’t try and take over the world, the research will have many applications for the field.

From New Scientist:

Even robots designed to Asimov’s laws can collide with people. We are trying to make sure that when they do, the collision is not too powerful. We are taking the first steps to defining the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans.

For science! (and the people who are still alive…)

[via Engadget]

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