photo by the illustrious Bart Nagel
IEEE Spectrum interviewed BB pal Ken Goldberg, UC Berkeley engineering professor, artist, and telerobotics pioneer. Ken spoke about telepresence, automatons, and Heidegger. Yes, Heidegger. From the IEEE Spectrum interview, conducted by Erico Guizzo:
EG: And why do we want to physically extend ourselves to distant places (using telerobots) anyway? Telephone and Skype aren't enough?
KG: The idea of remote control, that you can click a button here and something happens over there, is a very powerful and satisfying experience. We love our TV and garage remotes. Robots have a very intertwined history with this idea of remote operation. It might go back to Tesla's famous experiments with a radio-controlled boat, which he demonstrated in New York in 1898. After World War II, the first robots were master-slave telerobots used to handle radioactive substances. Today telerobots are used for exploration, in space and underwater, and more recently for bomb disposal. Now, telepresence is different because you're not manipulating an object or performing a repair; you're interacting with people. So there are humans on both ends. The goal is to give the remote operator a sense that he or she is closer to the people on the other end. And hopefully vice versa. Naturally, the telephone and things like Skype are more or less trying to do the same thing. But the key question is, What's missing? How can you make the experience of "being there" more fulfilling? One of the benefits of the robots is that they enhance the sense of agency, of being an agent, in the remote environment. You are not just a passive conversationalist; you can actually move around and explore. And that really matters. The ability to control where you are is empowering and gives you a different set of possibilities. There's more spontaneity and discovery.