Americans have often mourned the loss of their first cars, Tom Hanks in "Castaway" risked his life to save a soccer ball called Wilson and American soldiers care deeply when one of their own robotic comrades is hurt in action.
Near the Tigris River, operators even have been known to take their bot fishing. They put a fishing rod in its claw and retire back to the shade, leaving the robot in the sun. Of the fish, Bogosh says, "Not sure if we ever caught one or not."The Washington Post tells this story:
The most effective way to find and destroy a land mine is to step on it.
This has bad results, of course, if you're a human. But not so much if you're a robot and have as many legs as a centipede sticking out from your body. That's why Mark Tilden, a robotics physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, built something like that. At the Yuma Test Grounds in Arizona, the autonomous robot, 5 feet long and modeled on a stick-insect, strutted out for a live-fire test and worked beautifully, he says. Every time it found a mine, blew it up and lost a limb, it picked itself up and readjusted to move forward on its remaining legs, continuing to clear a path through the minefield.
Finally it was down to one leg. Still, it pulled itself forward. Tilden was ecstatic. The machine was working splendidly.
The human in command of the exercise, however -- an Army colonel -- blew a fuse.
The colonel ordered the test stopped.
Why? asked Tilden. What's wrong?
The colonel just could not stand the pathos of watching the burned, scarred and crippled machine drag itself forward on its last leg.
This test, he charged, was inhumane.
In the hypothetical event that the universe is infinite and existed an infinite amount of time, every possible event could occur in it. Every color, song and marvel; every suffering and every monstrous cruelty would come to pass. Happily not everything in the universe is equally likely. Wherever we look we find non-random data. Train our telescopes where we might, we find structures repeating themselves across the visible range. The universe likes to choose certain outcomes rather than others. Though in what way exactly we are at loss to know.
It is without doubt a very powerful computing machine. But for the simple the most important question is not whether the universe can compute but whether it contains love. And in one indubitable sense, the universe does contain love. For as long as men exist who can care for their children, their pets and even feel sorry for the little robots they come to rely upon in clearing roadside mines, then hope is not truly lost.
A robot by itself will always be a piece of inanimate plastic and steel until it comes in contact with us. As Margery Williams describes in her classic story, the Velveteen Rabbit we have a magic about us that that can make the things we care about Real. One toy in a nursery gave this advice to another about the process of becoming Real in the presence of a child.
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
People are the magic, the one known instance of foolishness and love existing in this universe, though they may be others and it may be more widespread than we think. It may in fact be what the universe is all about. Personally I'm glad the Colonel stopped the test. Of all the things of power that America has, nothing is more powerful or bears a greater mark of greatness than the place it gives to the human heart and the magic that makes us Real.