Is a Cambrian Explosion Coming for Robotics? – IEEE Spectrum

What a great article about the explosion of robotic awesomeness.

About half a billion years ago, life on earth experienced a short period of very rapid diversification called the “Cambrian Explosion.” Many theories have been proposed for the cause of the Cambrian Explosion, with one of the most provocative being the evolution of vision, which allowed animals to dramatically increase their ability to hunt and find mates (for discussion, see Parker 2003). Today, technological developments on several fronts are fomenting a similar explosion in the diversification and applicability of robotics. Many of the base hardware technologies on which robots depend—particularly computing, data storage, and communications—have been improving at exponential growth rates. Two newly blossoming technologies—“Cloud Robotics” and “Deep Learning”—could leverage these base technologies in a virtuous cycle of explosive growth. In Cloud Robotics—a term coined by James Kuffner (2010)—every robot learns from the experiences of all robots, which leads to rapid growth of robot competence, particularly as the number of robots grows. Deep Learning algorithms are a method for robots to learn and generalize their associations based on very large (and often cloud-based) “training sets” that typically include millions of examples. Interestingly, Li (2014) noted that one of the robotic capabilities recently enabled by these combined technologies is vision—the same capability that may have played a leading role in the Cambrian Explosion.

How soon might a Cambrian Explosion of robotics occur? It is hard to tell. Some say we should consider the history of computer chess, where brute force search and heuristic algorithms can now beat the best human player yet no chess-playing program inherently knows how to handle even a simple adjacent problem, like how to win at a straightforward game like tic-tac-toe (Brooks 2015). In this view, specialized robots will improve at performing well-defined tasks, but in the real world, there are far more problems yet to be solved than ways presently known to solve them.

Is a Cambrian Explosion Coming for Robotics? – IEEE Spectrum.

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