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An Artificial Life

May 8, 2008
Robots have been a highly interesting subject since the 20th century. The idea that an artificial entity seems to be able to act on its own brought wonder and amazement to millions of people across the world.

The mid to late 20th century opened the idea of artificially creating humanoid machines that can do the work of human beings for them. However, technically speaking, just what are robots?

A robot is a mechanical and artificial agent (with the word agent meaning someone or something that is able to act on its own). Usually run by electricity, a robot acts as if it were human: doing tasks similar to what humans usually do. Though robots may look and acts like humans, they are still just functional machines, this means that they need to be equipped with a certain program in order to act out or do whatever actions they were built to do.

A robot, like any other object, is only a true robot when it has the following properties: it was created artificially; it has the ability to sense its surroundings and interact with any external stimuli; it knows how to make choices to a certain degree (usually by automatic control) and depending on its environment; and it is programmable. A robot must also move using certain axes or points of rotation, and can make coordinated movements with fine motor skills.

All robots have human intent or agency, which explains why they are also called anthropomorphic objects. Anthropomorphic objects are those that have some unique characteristics of a human being. Two things categorize a robot's defining characteristics: mental and physical agency. Mental agency refers to how a robot interacts with its surroundings, commonly referred to as how the robot "thinks". The more an artificial object can do things on its own, the more likely it is a robot. Physical agency is whenever people see an object that is anthropomorphic, especially if it has limbs (arms and legs); they consider it as a robot.

Robots are categorized according do what they do in the society. Mobile robots are machines that can move, and people use these types for searching accessible areas. Mobile robots can either be a rolling robot, meaning it has wheels and only runs on smooth areas, or walking robots, meaning they have "legs", and can be used in jagged terrain. Stationary robots are robots that do tedious and repeated tasks normal human beings would be unable or unwilling to do. Autonomous robots are self-contained machines; this means that these robots have programs that give them the opportunity to decide what to do next, depending on their surroundings. Remote controlled robots are the types that allow human control over their actions, yet they have the characteristics of a robot. Virtual robots, although considered as robots, do not really exist in reality; they are programs in a computer, often used to simulate certain tasks virtually, seeing if it is safe to do in real life. Virtual robots also allow the automatic control of another program, if the user is absent. BEAM robots are robots designed for hobbyists. BEAM means Biology Electronics Aesthetics Mechanics.

Robots, although human in appearance and in action, are still simply man-made machines. All current existing robots are still controlled and programmed by humans, which means that the fear of robots found in pop movies and books is unfounded.
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