Science is Still Missing the Mark

You know, it would be nice if there was something that could take on a few household chores. The weekends are too short to have to blow a few hours cleaning, don't you think?

But, unless this thing is a few feet high, it wouldn't have the space to clean up after my four dogs. Not at this time of the year.

Now, there is a version of the Roomba that can sense their owner's tension levels. The person straps a band around the head that transmits to the little robot the collected signals, and it then translates that into stress levels. If you're too stressed, it will go vacuum elsewhere. If you're relaxed, it will come up to you and wiggle around, mimicking a dog wanting attention. The point is that the robot is responding to emotion instead of commands.

All sorts of sci-fi movies are brought up in comparison to this little robot's newly acquired talent. Step 1, emotion recognition. Step 2, reflect back by mimicry those emotions, and Step 3, feel alive. The Terminator and good ol' Data didn't need human emotion to wreak havoc!

Let's face it. We're not good at interpreting our own human emotions, so who is going to program a computer to do it? Consider the results from this snippet, taken out of 2001: A Space Odyssey:
"Hal, switch to manual hibernation control."

"I can tell from your voice harmonics, Dave, that you're badly upset. Why don't you take a stress pill and get some rest?"

"I'm sorry, Dave, but in accordance with special subroutine C1435-dash-4, quote, When the crew are dead or incapacitated, the onboard computer must assume control, unquote. I must, therefore, overrule your authority, since you are not in any condition to exercise it intelligently."

"Hal," said Bowman, now speaking with an icy calm. "I am not incapacitated. Unless you obey my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you."
That sure doesn't sound like much fun. The machine is not able to discern that stress levels are sometimes needed in stressful situations.

Star Trek: TNG started out exploring emotion as the one thing that defined sentience in the case of Deana reacting strongly to the emotions of alien life forms, and Data trying to understand emotions without an emotion chip (programming). Mr. Spock's whole life was the monumental task of overcoming emotion.

Science is coming closer and closer to finding what it should have been seeking all along: consciousness. Still avoiding how a physical thing such as a brain can think and feel, they will soon have no choice but to recognize that life is consciousness.

Then, what will the Roomba do?


  1. I had no idea the RoomBa could sense your stress--kind of scarey in an electronic sort of way.

    "Hal" always did scare me.

  2. I love sci-fi, but not the scary stuff. Like the movie "Alien." Scared me half to death. I much prefer the positive, good stuff like Star Trek and Matrix.

    I didn't care for Hal either!