I, Robot: Machines manuever into the living room, assembly line

Asimov wrote about the Three Laws.
Humanity creates a robot to clean up the space debris enshrouding the Earth.

It's sometime in the future, and the broken-down satellites and other trash in orbit threaten to derail the fast-expanding colonization of the region outside the atmosphere. World leaders settle on a solution, a relatively small and unimpressive but strong and highly mobile machine.

At first, the robot does its job perfectly. However, its obsessive drive for perfection puts it in conflict with humans. After all, they caused the trash and continue to contribute.

By the time the robot has finished its directive -- creating a massive metal orbiting sculpture that reads "PEACE," it has killed nearly every human on the planet. Job well done.


Heavy Metal
Maybe not. I believe the story comes from one of the earlier issues of Heavy Metal magazine. (I have every single issue in boxes in order in the garage, something my wife Peggy is not impressed by.)

But it's a robot story. And that makes it cool.

Robots are starting to pop up more frequently. They're common on assembly lines, in medical centers and all over many technical processes.

A news item by Belgian-based Containers Maes got me onto this topic. The waste management and container company plans to install a robot on its various recycling lines that can separate the valuable materials. Dubbed the ZenRobotics Recycler, the machine has artificial intelligence and articulated limbs that deftly pick wood, stone and metal from incoming construction waste.

Containers Maes officials say their system incorporating the ZenRobotics product will run on solar power. (And thus the clean energy connection.)

"We want to change the game," says Werner Willemoons, environmental director of Containers Maes, in a statement.

Willemoons says the future of recycling lies in innovative technologies and calls the robot a "no-brainer."

A lifetime of service

Robots also are finding their way into the consumer market. Roomba's already up to the 700 series of its floor cleaning robot.

Says Ali Heriyanto of chipchick.com of the $599 780: "This newer generation seems like it floats on air around your home and it will get every piece of dirt – big or small, before calling it a day." She says it lasts longer than past models and calls it a robotic workhorse.

I'm thinking about getting one. I love clean floors, so why not?

The Three Laws

It's just a matter of time before we have to worry about smart robots. Before "Terminator," there was Isaac Asimov. In his fiction, positronic robots conformed to the Three Laws of Robotics:
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Asimov reasoned that these rules were inescapable. Robots developed their own intelligence, and at some point in his writings, they appeared more highly developed than our species.

When I first read his books, I had my doubts I'd ever see such developments. Now, I'm not so sure.

Robots are here. They're just a little slow. But they'll get faster and smarter.

Let's get somebody else to clean the skies in the meantime.