Robots of the World, Unite

By Tim Moran  |  Posted 2011-04-06

Full-Metal Facebook

As if we don’t have enough to worry about, now comes news that robots are getting their own information-packed network. A recent squib on reports that a European Union-funded project called RoboEarth is building a database and network that will let robots share information about the world—and us. The robots will both contribute to and curate the network, which will allow them to access and share everything they have learned and everything they do.

For instance: If one robot learns how to set a table for dinner, that information can be made available on the robot net so future robots can learn how to do it too. What one robot has learned is available for all time for other robots. At the speed with which Wikipedia and Facebook have taken off with humans, the mind reels at how rapidly robots will know how to do everything humans can do—except program a remote control. Nobody can do that.

Tech-Savvy Kids Can’t Tie Their Shoes

When I was a kid, toys were simple and technology was rudimentary. Consumer technology was just beginning to take off with products like the tape cassette, the portable calculator and the transistor radio. We rode bikes, played stickball and collected baseball cards.

Flash forward 50 years: According to a recent study by AVG, an Internet security company, children today are more likely to know how to navigate with a mouse, play a computer game and operate a smartphone than swim, tie their own shoelaces or make their own breakfast. Said AVG’s CEO, J.R. Smith: “Technology has changed what it means to be a parent raising children today—these children are growing up in an environment that would be unrecognizable to their parents.”

Ya think? Unless their mothers were computers, of course.

When Computers Wore Skirts

Once upon a time, a “computer” was a person, not a thing. In most cases, this person was female, and therein lies the tale of the women who, in 1942, were part of a secret U.S. military program at the University of Pennsylvania, where they worked as “computers” calculating weapons trajectories for soldiers fighting in World War II. A cohort of these women was turned up by LeAnn Erickson, an associate professor at Temple University, whose research led to a video documentary, Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II.

After the war ended, some of these women were hired to work on that new technology marvel, ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. Though the men who created it, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr., received all the kudos, it was the nascent “programming” and vacuum-tube debugging by women “computers” that actually made ENIAC work. But other than a shared certificate of commendation from the military, “the programmers and their hand-calculating counterparts got no recognition.” Until now.