Reality versus Fiction

What is and what could be

There is a very big difference between what robotics and artificial intelligence researchers are doing in the real world and the stories people write about what might happen in the future. There are two main reasons for this.

Part of it is due to the simple fact that real technology has not caught up to the imaginations of science-fiction authors; while it is easy to talk about building a machine capable of the physical movements of a human being, or programming a computer to be a creative and self-aware entity, in actuality these things are difficult to do. At present, it requires a central processing unit about the size of a human head to control a robot that walks like a human, without arms or even eyes. Until our ability to miniaturize complicated microchips is improved some more, duplicating human motion and sensory ability will remain impossible. Likewise, computer engineers are currently incapable of building anything that combines the complexity and small size and weight of the human brain, or even comes close. Until someone achieves this, it will remain impossible to build computers that think like we do, or that think as well, even in a different way. Computers do mathematics well, but they do not write literature.

The other reason for the real world/ fiction gap in android technology is that it's expensive to develop and construct experimental robots. Very few robots or computers are built by anyone as pure research; most of them are developed towards specific purposes, like replacing human labor, that have specific benefits for the people who fund the development of the technology. Until some person or organization with a great deal of money decides that imitation people would be profitable to them in some way, none are likely to be developed.

This is not to say that any of these things are impossible. The main obstacles to android technology now are money and technique. With advances in materials science it may soon become clear how to build smaller, more complex microchips, and once these become available various corporations and individuals will be racing to see who can create the most useful and advanced applications for the new technology.

To get a better idea of what is going on in the world of technology as it relates to androids, please check out the Current Technology page for this site.