Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Making Plans Centralized

Today on NPR's Kojo Nnamdi Show, guest Lee Gutkind discussed his new book Almost Human: Making Robots Think. Partway through the interview, Gutkind proclaimed that society needs to figure out what we want robots to do in our economy. Arguing for a massive convention of various disciplines such as (doctors, roboticists, industrialists and so forth), he said this meeting could plan "once and for all" what robots will do.

Gutkind's desire for planning sounds nice but is strangely placed. There was no such meeting when the Internet first appeared and after an admittedly hectic discovery process, we have learned what works as an online business and what does not. Gutkind's flaw lies in believing there is no planning going on in the realm of applied robotics but in truth there is a great deal of design. But unlike the centralized organization of a few that Gutkind imagines, the planning that is going on now is echoed across millions of minds in thousands of companies the world over. Through the activity of the market, we will learn where robots work well and where they don't. It'll be messy, but it will work far better than a handful of people meeting at a Holiday Inn.

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