Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Robots with genes

Professor Kim Jong-Hwan believes people will one day keep robots as pets. Picture / Mark Mitchell
14.12.04
By SIMON COLLINS
Korean scientists have created the world's first "artificial species" - a robot with genes that it can pass on to other robots.

Professor Kim Jong-Hwan, already known as the creator of "robot football", has developed 14 artificial chromosomes that he says will determine robots' "personality".

He believes that within 20 years lonely people will use their personal robots to keep them company, replacing cats and dogs.

"If you come back to your home after work, the robot will greet you and you can talk to him like a friend," he said.

"For example, a senior person who is living alone might feel loneliness. If they use their pet robot, they will feel more comfortable."

Dr Kim is in New Zealand as the keynote speaker at the second international conference on "autonomous robots and agents".

He believes that robots are on the brink of the kind of takeoff that transformed computing with the invention of the personal computer 22 years ago.

Robots costing less than US$200 ($283) are already available to vacuum your house, the Americans are using robots to search buildings for terrorists in Iraq, and Dr Kim believes New Zealand will soon use robots to pick kiwifruit.

"In the very near future, personal robots will be in our houses like personal computers," he said.

He has used sports to help robots capture the public imagination, and believes the next step is to give them the ability to pass on their "genes".

"The artificial chromosome is a software system. It means that the information - their 'genes' - can be easily sent to other robots," he said.

"So if I send the chromosomes to another robot, that robot can then reproduce by itself. In that sense the robots will be created by the 'genes'. The personality of robots will be created by artificial genes."

Dr Kim believes there is no danger that such self-reproducing robots will take over the world as portrayed in movies such as this year's blockbuster I, Robot.

"If we design the chromosomes quite safely, then we can avoid such a bad situation," he said.

* Prof Kim gives a public lecture at 7pm on Thursday, Room QA1, Quadrangle Building A, Gate 1, Massey University, Albany.

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