Friday, July 16, 2010

I, Robot

This morning Herb was surfing YouTube and came across an amazing video of a prototype robot which moves in a very humanlike way and can even get up off the floor if it’s knocked over. We watched a series of videos of highly-advanced robots that can climb stairs, pick up objects, and walk around obstacles. And we were both astounded at the incredibly complicated technology it must entail.

And then I stopped to think about Ryan. While these brilliant engineers were welding together silicon and steel, designing and programming tiny computer chips, balancing and testing and tweaking their robots, he was learning exactly those same skills. In just a few short months, he has learned to pick up objects, to pull himself into a standing position, even to more around an object that’s in his way (well, sort of). And judging from his curious looks up the stairwell, he’s well on his way to mastering stair climbing. And yet, we don’t put that into the same category of astounding as we do the development of a robot that can do the same things.

When you think about all the skills that a human being develops in the first year of his life, it really is astounding. He learns to control his limbs, to propel himself around (by various means), to communicate through both speaking and listening. He learns to recognize people. He learns to feed himself. He learns to express his desires. He learns to control his emotions. He learns to understand the tone of voice and facial expressions of others. How many dozens of years has it taken for man to invent a robot who can do half of those things, half as well?

The human body – and even more, the human mind – is an amazing and astounding thing. We take it for granted all too often. But from now on, every time Ryan learns a new skill, I’ll be looking at it from a new perspective. And being amazed, yet again!

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