The Atlantic - What Is a Robot? 5-15min

Ubiquitous computing and automation are occurring in tandem. Self-operating machines are permeating every dimension of society, so that humans find themselves interacting more frequently with robots than ever before—often without even realizing it. The human-machine relationship is rapidly evolving as a result. Humanity, and what it means to be a human, will be defined in part by the machines people design. ... A distrust of machines that come to life goes back at least as far as tales of golems, and this uneasiness has remained persistent in contemporary culture. ... While doppelgängers, golems, living dolls, and automata are all ancient, the word “robot” is not even a century old. It was coined by the playwright Karl Capek in “R.U.R.,” short for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, in 1921. “R.U.R.,” which tells the story of a global robot-human war, also helped set the tone for the modern conception of robots. ... After Capek brought “robot” into the lexicon, it quickly became a metaphor for explaining how various technologies worked. By the late 1920s, just about any machine that replaced a human job with automation or remote control was referred to as a robot. Automatic cigarette dispensers were called “robot salesmen,” a sensor that could signal when a traffic light should change was a “robot traffic director,” or a “mechanical policeman,” a remote-operated distribution station was a “robot power plant,” the gyrocompass was a “robot navigator,” new autopilot technology was a “robot airplane pilot,” and an anti-aircraft weapon was a “robot gun.” ... Today, people talk about robots in similarly broad fashion. Just as “robot” was used as a metaphor to describe a vast array of automation in the material world, it’s now often used to describe—wrongly, many roboticists told me—various automated tasks in computing. ... a future that many people today simultaneously want and fear. Driverless cars could save millions of lives this century. But the economic havoc that robots could wreak on the workforce is a source of real anxiety. ... The rise of the robots seems to have reached a tipping point; they’ve broken out of engineering labs and novelty stores, and moved into homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses. Their upward trajectory seems unstoppable.

The Atlantic - Searching for Lost Knowledge in the Age of Intelligent Machines 21min

Yet the mystery of the mechanism is only partly solved. No one knows who made it, how many others like it were made, or where it was going when the ship carrying it sank. ... What if other objects like the Antikythera Mechanism have already been discovered and forgotten? There may well be documented evidence of such finds somewhere in the world, in the vast archives of human research, scholarly and otherwise, but simply no way to search for them. Until now. ... Scholars have long wrestled with “undiscovered public knowledge,” a problem that occurs when researchers arrive at conclusions independently from one another, creating fragments of understanding that are “logically related but never retrieved, brought together, [or] interpreted,” as Don Swanson wrote in an influential 1986 essay introducing the concept. ... In other words, on top of everything we don’t know, there’s everything we don’t know that we already know. ... Discovery in the online realm is powered by a mix of human curiosity and algorithmic inquiry, a dynamic that is reflected in the earliest language of the internet. The web was built to be explored not just by people, but by machines. As humans surf the web, they’re aided by algorithms doing the work beneath the surface, sequenced to monitor and rank an ever-swelling current of information for pluckable treasures. The search engine’s cultural status has evolved with the dramatic expansion of the web. ... Using machines to find meaning in vast sets of data has been one of the great promises of the computing age since long before the internet was built.