On 23rd February 2020, I took part in a Reddit AMA which spanned across the main r/IAmA sub-reddit as well as r/robotics and r/sciencefitction. I received a great response and some really interesting questions around robotics, AI and science fiction, but just in case you missed it, here are some of the more random questions and my answers.
Q. What’s your favorite color?
A. blue... no yellow!
Q. If you could replace any one limb with a robotic one, which would it be?
A. Hmmm- I'm thinking you mean a limb like an arm or a leg, not my little finger... With the state of prosthetics for legs, I'd go with losing a leg. But otherwise a finger or a toe.
Seriously, I find the advances in prosthetics inspiring and when I first saw videos of the Cybathlon, I got a bit weepy-eyed it was so inspiring.
Q. Do you like or love what you do?
A. I totally love what I do! Being a professor allows me to decide what I conduct research on, arrange my time to go to disasters, AND get to work with great students. Plus, my research is on disasters so it is rewarding to help introduce AI and robotics to emergency managers and responders. I'm really lucky.
Except on the days I have to file lots of reports for the university or grade a humongous set of papers...
Q. If you could bring into this world with a magic wand some sort of technology, what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t mind seeing an iron man suit or the medical pod from the movie Elysium with matt Damon come to life.
A. Those are great technologies, aren't they? I'd be happy with Matt Damon, ha ha ha...
Are you familiar with Dr. Robert Full's work with biorobots? I told Bob what I want is a robot ferret or lemming- that like a ferret could crawl, claw, and snake itself deep into rubble of a collapsed building, then could look up and around like a meerkat. Getting more than 20 feet into a building collapse is about the current limit with boroscopes. The voids are small and twisty so there are very, very difficult to traverse. Most of the people who are rescued from building collapses are within 20 feet of the outside- but that's not where most of the trapped people are. So this would help locate them, even bring medical and emotional support to them.
Q. What is your favourite movie that includes robots?
A. There are so many! If we're going with classics, then Metropolis. If we're going with overall nicest movie, WALL-E. If we're going for most realistic robots, Silent Running. If we're going for most MST3K- Runaway (with Tom Selleck, Kristie Alley, and Gene Simmons- yes, the KISS Gene Simmons- it's delightfully awful!) I can go on...
Q. What advice do you have for someone stuck in a cubicle who almost can see the sun, working in a Tech Company?
Nothing helpful I can offer- unless you want advice about going back to school in AI and robotics... sorry
Q. When you were a child what was your view of the very very far future? Did it involve the work you do now and did we achieve more or less than your childhood expectations? (Or expectations in your undergrad etc... Whatever is relevant)
A. I grew up expecting to live and work on a nuclear powered wagon wheel space station where people were imperfect but always trying to do the right thing and do better (think Deliah and the Space Rigger from Heinlein's Green Hills of Earth) and that eventually we'd have artificial intelligence systems like Mike (Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey). I assumed I would be a mechanical engineer and help with space exploration to help humanity and make a contribution.
In some sense, it did involve the work I do now- I argue that disaster robotics is harder than space robotics in my book Disaster Robotics. And it is a way of helping humanity and making a contribution.
My biggest surprise is that we do not have more capable artificial intelligence and robotics systems- I think the seeds of reasoning exists but aren't being exploited or the initiative is being siphoned away by poorly specified projects for defense or the start-up culture.
Q. What is something you wish you learned earlier?
A. Not to take things personally.
Q. What was the best mistake you ever made?
A. Had to take a research project with a new professor at Georgia Tech, Ron Arkin, who did this crazy thing called AI robotics that I was not interested in. But I needed the fellowship. And 4 months later I was totally in love with AI robotics and publishing...
Q. Last book you read?
A. Out of the Soylent Planet: Rex Nihilio series (I LOVE Sasha, the robot narrator. ROFL)
Q. Last song you listened to?
A. New York City They Might Be Giants (I was just in New York for the AI XPrize)
Q. Have you watched Altered Carbon?
A. Read the book, awesomeness though in a dark way. Haven't seen the series yet.
See the other two summaries of my AMAs with questions on robotics, AI and scifi and education and learning.