How long before machines are cleverer than us? The first robots were clockwork novelties. Now robots – named for the Russian word robotnic, meaning worker – can outperform humans at ever more tasks.
But robots are specialists. They don’t have our versatility – yet. They can’t yet do what every child can do – transfer learning to a new context. A human trumpeter could make a fist of playing a clarinet, but a robot would have to be reprogrammed. It might be a world-beater at Go but it couldn’t play Snap.
Making robots which can perform as well as humans, whether it be at walking, seeing, or thinking, involves understanding how humans walk, see and think. Nature is hard to emulate. But . . . remember those lumbering movie robots? They’ve upped their game. Now that we understand the complex mechanics of human ambulation it is possible to build robots which walk like we do, even over rough surfaces.