Automaton, Know Thyself: Robots Become Self-Aware

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Robots might one day trace the origin of their consciousness to recent experiments aimed at instilling them with the ability to reflect on their own thinking. Although granting machines self-awareness might seem more like the stuff of science fiction than science, there are solid practical reasons for doing so, explains roboticist Hod Lipson at Cornell University's Computational Synthesis Laboratory. "The greatest challenge for robots today is figuring out how to adapt to new situations," he says. "There are millions of robots out there, mostly in factories, and if everything is in the right place at the right time for them, they are superhuman in their precision, in their power, in their speed, in their ability to work repetitively 24/7 in hazardous environments--but if a bolt falls out of place, game over." This lack of adaptability "is the reason we don't have many robots in the home, which is much more unstructured than the factory," Lipson adds.