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Robot Hall of fame

Carnegie Mellon University recently decided that the world needed a Robot Hall of Fame. So they founded one this year, hired a jury of experts, and had them decide on the first four robots to be inducted this year as hall-of-famers.

The winners? None other than the Soujourner Mars probe, the Unimate industrial robot, the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and R2-D2.

Of course, the interesting thing is that the jury decided to include robots that do not actually exist, other than in the movies. I like this, insofar as it points to the fact that robots are cool not so much because of what they are, but what we imagine them to be. If you want to see an actual robot — in the original sense of the Czech word “robot” meaning “servant” — well, go to the kitchen and behold your dishwasher. But if you want an idealized robot, watch a movie. Robots are, at heart, a philosophical pleasure: By meditating upon them, we think about the nature of ourselves — what makes things seem human-like, lifelike, or intelligent. As Jim Morris, the jury moderator for the Hall of Fame, said of R2-D2:

R2-D2 represents our highest hope for what robots might do for humans. He performs countless services and save the lives of humans many times. He seems to understand technology deeply and responds to human needs unerringly. He does not try to imitate humans or compete with them. He’s all robot!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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