Home | Third Culture | Digerati | Reality Club

JB: What happened after you had your epiphany?

BROOKS: We built our first robot, and it worked fantastically well. At the time there were just a very few mobile robots in the world; they all assumed a static environment, they would do some sensing, they would compute for 15 minutes, move a couple of feet, do some sensing, compute for 15 minutes, etc., and that on a mainframe computer. Our system ran on a tiny processor on board. The first day we switched it on the robot wandered around without hitting anything, people walked up to it, it avoided them, so immediately it was in a dynamic environment. We got all that for free, and this system was operating fantastically better than the conventional systems. But the reaction was that "this can't be right!" I gave the first talk on this at a robotics seminar held in Chantilly, France, and I've heard since that Georges Giralt head of robotics in France , and Ruzena Basczy, who at the time was head of the computer science department at the University of Pennsylvania, were sitting at the back of the room saying to each other, "what is this young boy doing, throwing away his career?" They have told me since that they thought I was nuts. They thought I'd gone off the deep end because I threw out all the mathematical modeling, all the geometric reconstruction by saying you can do it directly, connecting sensors to actuators. I had videotape showing the thing working better than any other robot at the time. But the reaction was, it can't be right. It's a parlor trick, this won't work anywhere else, this is just a one-shot thing.

JB: What do biologists think?

BROOKS: Largely the reaction from biologists and ethologists is that this is obvious, this is the way to do it, how could anyone have thought to do it differently? I had my strongest support early on from biologists and ethologists. Now it's become mainstream in the following weak sense. The new classical AI approach is, you've got this Brooks-like going on down at the bottom, and then you have the standard old AI system sitting on top modulating its behavior. Before there was the standard AI system controlling everything; now this new stuff has crept in below. Of course, I say that you just have this new stuff, and nothing else. The standard methodology is you have both right now. So everyone uses my approach, or some variation, at the bottom level now. Pathfinder on Mars is using that at the bottom level. I want to push this all the way, and people are sort of holding onto the old approach on top of it, because that's what they know how to deal with.

JB: Where is this going to go?

BROOKS: Certainly these approaches are going to get out there into the real world, and will be in consumer products within a very small number of years. And it's going to come through the toy industry because that's already happening.

JB: What kind of consumer applications?

BROOKS: Things that appear frivolous. Let me give you an analogy on the frivolousness of things. Imagine you've got a time machine and you go back to the Moore School, University of Pennsylvania, around 1950, and they've spent 4 million dollars in four years and they've got Eniac working. And you say, by the way, in less than fifty years you'll be able to buy a computer with the equivalent power to this for 40 cents. The engineers would look at you like you were crazy, this whole thing with 18,000 vacuum tubes, for 40 cents? Then if they asked you what will people use these computers for? You say "Oh, to tell the time." Totally frivolous. How could you be so crazy as to have such a thing of complexity, such a tool telling the time. It's the same thing in consumer products. What it relies on is getting a variety of components that you can plug together to rapidly build up many different frivoulous products, by just adding a little bit of bottom up intelligence. For instance, one component is being able to track where a person is. With that you can have a thing that knows where you are in the room and dynamically adjusts the balance in your stereo system for you. If you're in the room you always have perfect stereo. Or it's attached to a motor and it's a vanity mirror that follows you around in the bathroom, so it's always at exactly the right angle for you to see your face. For kids they can set up a guard for their bedroom such that when someone comes by it shoots them with a water pistol. Once the components are available there'll be lots of other frivolous applications. But that's what's going to be what's there and what people will buy.

Previous | Page 1 2 3 4 5 | Beginning