what is a robot, anyway?

so i’m sitting here talking to my friend about robots and she says, “what makes a robot a robot, and not just a computer?”

let’s ask toothpastefordinner.

Toothpaste For Dinner

well that’s not quite right. so let’s try wikipedia. it says:

While there is no single correct definition of robot,[2] a typical robot will have several, though not necessarily all of the following properties:

  • is not ‘natural’, i.e. it is artificially created
  • can sense its environment, and manipulate or interact with things in it
  • has some ability to make choices based on the environment, often using automatic control or a preprogrammed sequence
  • is programmable
  • moves with one or more axes of rotation or translation
  • makes dexterous coordinated movements
  • moves without human intervention
  • appears to have intent or agency (See anthropomorphism for examples of ascribing intent to inanimate objects.)[3]

The last property, the appearance of agency, is important when people are considering whether to call a machine a robot, or just a machine. In general, the more a machine has the appearance of agency, the more it is considered a robot.

this seemed reasonable. so then Laila asked, “what about those robots in car factories – do they have the appearance of agency?” a fine question. for a moment, i was stumped. and then i remembered.

the answer: yup.

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