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Robot Revolution

Robots are becoming more human-like than ever. Will the machines eventually replace people?

Meet Ibuki. In many ways, he’s a lot like a 10-year-old boy. His face looks realistic, he sounds like a kid when he talks, and he’s about as tall as a fourth-grader. But Ibuki clearly isn’t a typical 10-year-old. For one thing, his head is filled with wires. And he has wheels instead of feet.

Ibuki is the latest in a line of lifelike robots created by Hiroshi Ishiguro. The Japanese scientist says Ibuki will one day be able to carry on a full conversation. He predicts that this will lead to human-robot friendships.

Before that can happen, Ishiguro and other engineers must figure out how to enable robots to think like humans. And that’s not easy.

Meet Ibuki. In many ways, he’s a lot like a 10-year-old boy. His face looks realistic. He sounds like a kid when he talks. And he’s about as tall as a fourth-grader. But Ibuki clearly isn’t a typical 10-year-old. For one thing, his head is filled with wires. And he has wheels instead of feet!

Ibuki is the latest in a line of lifelike robots created by Hiroshi Ishiguro. The Japanese scientist says Ibuki will one day be able to carry on a full conversation. He predicts that this will lead to human-robot friendships.

Before that can happen, Ishiguro and other engineers must figure out how to enable robots to think like humans. And that’s not easy.

Machine Marvels

Robots already play important roles in our lives. Many of the machines are used to efficiently carry out repetitive tasks. That package you just received from Amazon? It was likely packed by a robot.

Robots have also taken on more complex jobs. Some help doctors perform surgery. Others, like the rovers on Mars, explore distant planets that humans can’t yet visit.

But the newest wave of robots is equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). That’s the ability of a machine to think and learn like a human.

Robots already play important roles in our lives. Many of the machines are used to efficiently carry out repetitive tasks. That package you just received from Amazon? It was likely packed by a robot.

Robots have also taken on more complex jobs. Some help doctors perform surgery. Others are like the rovers on Mars. They explore distant planets that humans can’t yet visit.

But the newest wave of robots is equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). That’s the ability of a machine to think and learn like a human.

Next Generation

Engineers have been working on AI technology for decades. They’ve developed machines that have the ability to actually learn from their mistakes and improve their performance.

“Artificial intelligence cando some things much better than humans,” says AI expert Eleni Vasilaki.

One example is a computer program called AlphaZero. In 2017, AlphaZero played chess over and over, learning from its mistakes each time. In just a few hours, it became the best chess player in the world. Advancements like this have many people worried that robots could one day take their jobs.

Engineers have been working on AI technology for decades. They’ve developed machines that have the ability to actually learn from their mistakes. They can then improve their performance.

“Artificial intelligence can do some things much better than humans,” says AI expert Eleni Vasilaki.

One example is a computer program called AlphaZero. In 2017, AlphaZero played chess over and over. It learned from its mistakes each time. In just a few hours, it became the best chess player in the world. Advancements like this have many people worried. They fear that robots could one day take their jobs.

Far From Perfect

But even intelligent robots are still no match for humans. Though AI is improving, robots cannot yet completely think like humans. They mostly do only what they’re programmed to do—and they don’t always function as planned.

In 2015, the Henn-na Hotel in Japan opened with a staff of hundreds of robots. But earlier this year, the hotel “fired” more than 100 of them. It turns out the robots weren’t so good at their jobs. They were super noisy. When they weren’t bringing people’s bags to the wrong rooms, they were bumping into each other. They couldn’t even answer simple questions like “Where is the nearest amusement park?”

But even intelligent robots are still no match for humans. AI is improving. But robots cannot yet completely think like humans. They mostly do only what they’re programmed to do. And they don’t always function as planned.

In 2015, the Henn-na Hotel in Japan opened with a staff of hundreds of robots. But earlier this year, the hotel “fired” more than 100 of them. It turns out the robots weren’t so good at their jobs. They were super noisy. When they weren’t bringing people’s bags to the wrong rooms, they were bumping into each other. They couldn’t even answer simple questions like “Where is the nearest amusement park?”

Almost Human?

Engineers have not yet figured out how to create robots with human feelings, either. Robots can’t tell when you’re happy or angry or know when to laugh at a joke. So robots aren’t ready to be teachers or nurses—or to do most jobs that require dealing with people.

“There is tremendous potential,” says Vasilaki. “But there is no evidence that we are even close to creating what we consider human intelligence.”

So it might be a long time before Ibuki is ready to replace your best friend!

Engineers have not yet figured out how to create robots with human feelings, either. Robots can’t tell when you’re happy or angry. They don’t know when to laugh at a joke. So robots aren’t ready to be teachers or nurses. They aren’t ready to do most jobs that require dealing with people.

“There is tremendous potential,” says Vasilaki. “But there is no evidence that we are even close to creating what we consider human intelligence.”

So it might be a long time before Ibuki is ready to replace your best friend!

Zick Jochen/Action Press/REX/Shutterstock (robot Musio); JST ERATO ISHIGURO/Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project (human robot)

1. Which details support the idea that robots are becoming more human-like?

2. What roles do robots play in our lives? How is that changing?

3. What is AlphaZero? Why is it mentioned in the article?

4. Explain what robots can’t do as well as humans.

1. Which details support the idea that robots are becoming more human-like?

2. What roles do robots play in our lives? How is that changing?

3. What is AlphaZero? Why is it mentioned in the article?

4. Explain what robots can’t do as well as humans.

Close-Reading Questions

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