June 8, 2004

"Synthetic Humans: Fantasy or Reality?"

Dr. Sidney Perkowitz

Charles Howard Candler Physics Professor
Emory University

Author of "Digital People"

After explaining that one of the earliest descriptions of a robot is that of Talos, a bronze creature designed and forged by Greek mythology god Hephaestus, Dr. Sidney Perkowitz read excerpts from his newly published book, "Digital People."  An animated debate ensued on issues such as cultural attitudes toward robots.  In western Judeo Christian cultures, the fear of Frankenstein's creature is associated to robots.  Furthermore, in the case of the U.S. most research in robotics is geared toward defense and funded by the U.S. Defense Department.  On the other hand in Japan -- an Eastern culture comfortable with spirit-endowed inanimate objects -- robots are generally seen in a more positive light and robotics research is conducted primarily in the private sector in the hope of fulfilling societal needs.  A high school student who participated in the discussion suggested that an attitude gap toward robots might now be more generational than cultural.

Other concepts discussed included robot gender and robots procreation (or self-replication) and philosophical questions such as "should robots be capable of emotions?" and "can we talk of intelligence in the case of robots?"  Professor Perkowitz' opinion of the latter is that "a robot that acts intelligently is intelligent."  Thanks to Stacey's Booksellers, hardcover copies of "Digital People" were available for sale and personalization. 

Photo credit: Barbara Murphy-Wesley