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Steve Wozniak ponders what it will take to make robots the next PC

Steve "Woz" Wozniak believes the development of robotics today parallels to the development of the personal computer over 30 years ago.  Given Woz's influence on the PC revolution during the lat 1980s and early 1990s, he might just be onto something.

In 1976, Wozniak founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs, after dropping out of the University of California, Berkley the year before.  Apple would go on to become the first computer manufacturing giant with its line of easy to use and program, relatively "friendly" computers.  During its years of wild success and eventual failure, Apple set many industry archetypes about what to do and what not to do that are still heeded and emulated today.

Wozniak has no formal training in robotics.  He doesn't have a lot of money -- relative to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. But what he lacks in finances and knowledge he more than makes up for in clout.

While Wozniak announced his lack of intentions for a robotics business venture, he spoke at a recent event hosted by ConnectWise and talked about his increasing interest in AI and what will work -- and what won't.

He sees ease of programming as the greatest foundation for success of robotic devices.  He thinks that robotic machines need to be made to be able to be easily trained to do useful tasks by their user, much like how the Apple computers could be user programmed in BASIC.  Complex tasks take too much time to program, and just aren't as valuable to the end user he feels.  He also sees simple behaviors that attempt to mimic human reactions or other non-utility based small functions as without merit.

"People want things that are useful as opposed to things that do a lot of little things that we call artificial intelligence."

Steve has become very interested in robotics in recent years, possibly after he started judging FIRST robotics competitions, a large international robotics league, which has teams at high schools across the country.

One thing about robotics that Wozniak feels strongly about is that he does not think that robots will ever reach true artificial intelligence.  In another interview Woz explained why he does not think we will ever see this true artificial intelligence -- robots capable of learning.  He elaborates:
"These robots will kind of do one thing well, but we never will see a robot that makes a cup of coffee, never. I don't believe we will ever see it.  Think of the steps that a human being has to do to make a cup of coffee and you have covered basically 10, 20 years of your lifetime just to learn it. So for a computer to do it the same way, it has to go through the same learning, walking to a house using some kind of optical with a vision system, stepping around and opening the door properly, going down the wrong way, going back, finding the kitchen, detecting what might be a coffee machine. You can't program these things, you have to learn it, and you have to watch how other people make coffee. ... This is a kind of logic that the human brain does just to make a cup of coffee. We will never ever have artificial intelligence. Your pet, for example, your pet is smarter than any computer."
According to Woz's comments, fantastic robots such as those found in motion pictures such as Terminator or The Matrix are unlikely to evolve anytime soon -- if ever.

Wozniak has not expressed any solid plans to implement his robotics ideas, though he does currently own Aquicor Technology, a shell company which acquires and develops other technology companies.

For a multimillionaire inventor who has made a piece of history, Woz still has many unfulfilled dreams which he is pursuing, including furthering the field of robotics.  He stays grounded in everyday life though, and has lots of practical goals as well.  One of these yet to be fulfilled goals -- to score 750,000 points on Game Boy Tetris.

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We will never ever have artificial intelligence?
By Aiserou on 10/2/2007 3:20:14 PM , Rating: 4
What happened to "never say never"? Especially when it comes to technology. Don't get me wrong, we're still a long, LONG way from it, but to say "never ever" is just silly.

Just like we'll "never ever" fly, go to the moon, cook things by sticking them in a box that magically warms them up, talk to someone on the other side of the world, sail around the world, etc, etc.

By Ringold on 10/2/2007 3:34:30 PM , Rating: 3
While I think Wozniak is taking an excellent businessman-like approach, that being to strip away the fancy BS and make products that do something useful, I sort of agree with you.

Specifically, 10 - 20 years to learn to make a cup of coffee?

A lot of the learning we do as tikes a computer does while booting up. Learning to walk? We're merely installing our leg drivers. Running? Overclocking blood pump. Writing? Asides from the language aspect, merely improving sloppy Java finger drivers with optimized machine/brain code.

What's left, the essence of making coffee.. I can't see as much more complicated than any other task, not once we have them doing other similar things -- like cleaning a room and sorting its objects, etc.

By Aiserou on 10/2/2007 3:42:37 PM , Rating: 4
I dunno about you guys, but I learned how to make coffee for my mom about the same time I started Kindergarten. I don't think you'd call it good coffee, but it woke her up.

I also agree that we're going to go a long way with mere "smart" devices that do a couple of things but aren't true AI. But to say that we will never ever have AI....jeez, talk about pessimism.

Or if you look at it from a "rise of the machines" perspective, optimism.

By HighWing on 10/2/2007 3:51:41 PM , Rating: 1
But to say that we will never ever have AI....jeez, talk about pessimism.

*laughs* Honestly I bet in a few days/weeks some university will release a counter statement and video of a robot making a cup of coffee.

By Phenick on 10/2/2007 3:55:20 PM , Rating: 2
The bot wouldn't need to know how to make the coffee the coffee maker would... the bot just hooks in and feeds it the information to get it going such as how much needed what flavor and bean type etc... then the simple machine would just do it...

By mindless1 on 10/2/2007 11:23:57 PM , Rating: 2
That's only after being acclimated to the new environment totally. For example, the robot needs to know or guess that your coffee maker is probably in the kitchen. It has to know what a coffee maker looks like. It has to be able to know what kind of storage device might have coffee in it, so it can find the coffee. It has to know what coffee looks like, so you don't end up with a hot cup of starch because it used flour instead of coffee. It has to know what sugar looks like or have, read labeled bins so you don't end up with salty coffee. If everything in your kitchen had large labels it might look like a Fischer Price kitchen, though I suppose a standardized RFID system could be used instead.

It has to know the sugar is also probably in the kitchen, and what to do when the sugar container is empty.

If all the robot were to do is as you mentioned, what flavor and beans, etc, to input this to a coffee maker's inbuilt computer control, then one might as well just use a remote control linked direct to the coffee maker instead of taking same amount of time to tell the robot to do it (though it would be nice if the robot could still bring you back the coffee once made).

By LogicallyGenius on 10/3/2007 6:38:19 AM , Rating: 2
Poor WOZ

he is a father of the lost generation

trying his best to comment on the next one

but he sucks

True AI will talk of if humans are anywhere near Intelligence let alone Artificial.

By mindless1 on 10/6/2007 9:28:50 PM , Rating: 2
I get the feeling Woz would own you. He did it all from the ground up. What do you do exactly? Install windows? LOL.

By audiomaniaca on 10/8/2007 5:06:28 PM , Rating: 2
Make me laugh. If a guy like Woz sucks and is the "father of the lost generation", how can I classify you?

A germ?

By bhieb on 10/2/2007 4:25:38 PM , Rating: 2
I know bad example on his part. Hell my coffee maker already does almost everything itself. Put in some plumbing and a few gauges for water and beans.
I did not check sharper image, but I bet there is an almost fully automated coffee maker NOW let alone NEVER. I supposed I have to restock the bean compartment now and then, but even then 99% of his example is already done by a simple "dumb" chip and clock.

I know he meant the whole act of buying the beans....., but still could have come up with a better example. How about ironing a shirt. There is one task I know we all want to automate (yet nothing comes close yet).

By eman7613 on 10/3/2007 12:12:07 AM , Rating: 2
I believe you have the wrong idea about what the Woz is trying to convey (always wanted to use that in a sentence). What I think he failed to say accurately, is that we will not have a true to life AI, that works the same way as a human, simply because its not practical to try and make. If we gave it a true to life AI, it would take 1 - 2 years to teach a robot English, but why would you waist that time, instead we would take short cuts to teach it english, so instead of having an understanding like we do, it has a sudoInteligance about English.

By kinnoch on 10/2/2007 4:41:25 PM , Rating: 4
I don't think he's talking about having a robot execute some predefined instructions on how to make coffee. He's talking about the robot independently being able to figure out how to make coffee. He's talking about the machine actually learning how to do something it could never do before, not just executing some instructions sent to it.

By System48 on 10/2/2007 5:00:48 PM , Rating: 2
He's missing something though. You only need to teach one prototype robot how to make a cup of coffee. Make an image of the HD(or whatever it is) and load it up to a new one.

By fk49 on 10/2/2007 5:57:37 PM , Rating: 2
Woz is saying theres more to it than that..
for the robot to be useful, it would need to be able to figure out where coffee machines are (eg. the kitchen), find the kitchen, distinguish the coffee machine from the toaster, etc , then all the mess about making the drink comes in.

In the end, would it be cheaper/easier than asking the grunt at Starbucks for a frap? If not, then robots have no practicality.

By mindless1 on 10/2/2007 11:27:02 PM , Rating: 2
It's not just about being able to do it, but do it repeatably, reliably, while encountering variables.

By Proteusza on 10/4/2007 12:46:14 PM , Rating: 2
Its significantly more complex than that, as Wozniak points out.

Your vision system is the hardest to emulate. Only recently have researchers been able to make a car that can drive itself. It still requires lots of processing power, very complex code, and constant human attention (because it sometimes does mess up).

Point is, recognizing the things you need to make coffee is easy for us, because you dont realize how amazingly powerful your brain is compared to a computer. Its vision processing system is incredibly advanced.

Our brains do so many things for us that we take for granted. How do you know if there are any clean mugs? How do know if a mug is dirty? How do you tell sugar from salt? if you dont want to taste it, can you tell just by the size of the crystals? Most people can. Computers would struggle to see that much detail.

It takes us at least 5 years to learn the things we need to make coffee. luckily, once one computer can do it, any similarly equipped box also could. But, we're a long way off from even one computer making a single cup of coffee in a strange kitchen.

By Master Kenobi on 10/2/2007 3:37:01 PM , Rating: 2
Yea theres an old quote can't remember it exactly.... Something along the lines of "Nothing is impossible, we just haven't developed the technology to do it yet".

By DarkElfa on 10/2/2007 5:37:34 PM , Rating: 2
Wozniak Rules! Now if only we could boot Jobs into orbit and give the company to the Woz, things would be golden.

By Blight AC on 10/3/2007 8:45:40 AM , Rating: 2
Sometimes, the best way to encourage someone is to tell them it cannot be done.

By vortmax on 10/3/2007 10:09:09 AM , Rating: 2
Reverse psychology....maybe...

By TimberJon on 10/2/2007 2:55:41 PM , Rating: 2
Would it be possible to further his idea by chipping certain items that always seem to get strewn about your house, and have that robotic butler or whatever put it where it goes when found? or at least remove it from the floor or other room where it does not belong? In the same way, newspapers could get a little chip on the bag or something for a "pal" to sniff out and retrieve.

What kinds of tasks do I want a robot doing in my house? vacuuming.. scrubbing the driveway.. thats about it.. Maybe cleaning my air ducts..

Certainly would be nice to have city-wide intelligence or at least half-intelligence. Something to govern crime and traffic. Speed up commuting a bit.

By Moishe on 10/2/2007 3:12:22 PM , Rating: 2
Robots will be good for cleaning, and other repetitive and mundane tasks that don't require taste, smell, or intangible things such as "art".

Roomba is doing the smart thing by simply making a "smart" vacuum. Any appliance we have can be a robot given enough programming.

I personally would love to regain the time it takes to vacuum, mow, wash, etc.

By Omega215D on 10/2/2007 3:22:08 PM , Rating: 3
New from Apple Inc: iRobot!

I'll leave now.

By GotDiesel on 10/3/2007 2:10:48 PM , Rating: 2
We have those in Texas.. "it" is called a wetback.. ROFL

By Misty Dingos on 10/2/2007 3:20:38 PM , Rating: 2
There are thousands of menial tasks that Robots would do well in a home setting. The issue with large scale integration of a true robot work force is that the very lowest paid workers in the work force will be the first displaced by them.

No I am not soundiung the Marxist hammer and sickle. But let’s look at what is likely to be the effects from robots replacing some easy basic jobs.

First place they show up. Cleaning large buildings after the human work force has gone home for the night. Human jobs lost five low income wage earners. Next level of integration, same building cut night security in half as two robot sentries take over tasks of night time building security. Total jobs lost seven now and nine when the rest of the night security is let go. This is not a condemnation of this technology nor is it an argument not to use robots in this capacity. But we have to acknowledge that using this type of technology is going to cut in to a service based economy.

Don’t be surprised when a union drags the issue of robots in to court when they loose out bid on a job because a robot staffed cleaning or security firm got the contract.

By Aiserou on 10/2/2007 3:23:40 PM , Rating: 2
More people to build and repair robots ;)

Until the robots build and repair themselves! ohnoes!!11

By Ringold on 10/2/2007 3:40:47 PM , Rating: 2
I occasionally wonder what human existence will mean when robots do maintain themselves as well as serving many of our needs.

What's left? Simply the pursuit of knowledge? Food? Self satisfaction in general? Exploration of the unknown? If the speed of light can't be violated, then how do we even do that?

Star Trek's Federation showed us what a socialist utopia looks like. Need food? Fire up the replicator. Need a replicator? Use the neighbors to replicate the parts of a replicator, assemble replicator.

TNG and DS9 did a great job of portraying the lives of the .1% of the population employed by Starfleet that got to go and do cool things, but the 99.9% of the population left with nothing to do.. what, we seriously think they're all in giant labs doing research for the hell of it?

Okay. My OT quota has been reached for the day. Sorry. :P

By bhieb on 10/2/2007 4:18:07 PM , Rating: 2
"I supposes we should have banned the internet just to keep the libraries open." - some movie quote I cannot quite remember (iRobot maybe?)

By SmokeRngs on 10/4/2007 9:35:19 AM , Rating: 2
No I am not soundiung the Marxist hammer and sickle. But let’s look at what is likely to be the effects from robots replacing some easy basic jobs.

Actually, this is a non-issue. Manual and menial labor jobs have been eliminated or made more efficient through technology since the idea of using tools. At a point in the not too distant past, the majority of the world's population was employed in agriculture just to support the population. While this may still be true for some countries, those that have industrialized generally have a very small percentage of the population doing actual agricultural work. "Tools" have caused this change.

The transition of robots to menial and manual labor jobs would not be overnight. Cost would be prohibitively high to begin with. The agriculture industry is a perfect example. Tractors and other machinery did not replace the majority of farmers and farmhands overnight. It was a gradual change over time. As it stands, there are still plenty of farmers out there. I should know as my uncles still run a small farm as do others in the area.

As with almost every gradual change, adjustments are made over time to compensate. It's not easy for everyone, but generally, it ends up better for the vast majority after the change has been made.

Don’t be surprised when a union drags the issue of robots in to court when they loose out bid on a job because a robot staffed cleaning or security firm got the contract.

This is obviously nothing short of prophetic or probably a quick glimpse at the current times and the past. There is no doubt in my mind something like this would happen. I have not done any research, but I'm sure labor unions went nuts back when automotive manufacturers started replacing workers with robots on parts of the assembly lines.

Personally, I don't care what the labor unions do or try to pull. If a robot was able to do the job quicker, at higher quality and cheaper, then I'm all for it. The labor unions might scream and yell, but eventually they would lose out. I will not go into a rant concerning many of the unions, but most of them resist any type of change. If robots were a viable replacement for union jobs, the unions would eventually lose out even though it's likely they would cause a delay in the introduction of robots to take their place.

How can he make such a dumb comment?
By HighWing on 10/2/2007 3:49:00 PM , Rating: 1
This is a kind of logic that the human brain does just to make a cup of coffee. We will never ever have artificial intelligence. Your pet, for example, your pet is smarter than any computer.

I find this comment to be rather idiotic on his part, especially if he judges robot competitions. This tells me that on this one thing he has not really done his homework. There are already robots out there that ARE smarter then many pets. Hell one could even argue that a roomba is smarter then some dogs. Sony even sold a consumer level robot for quite some time that had programmable intelligence almost equal if not better then a dog.

Now granted we don't have any robots with human like intelligence, but I know that there are universities that do have robots that (with some modifications) could be taught how to make a cup of coffee. Several other companies have robots that can walk like a human.

With how small and fast computing hardware and storage is getting, to make a bold statement such as to say "never" tells me that Steve "Woz" is not keeping himself informed enough to be speaking about such things. And my guess is he is basing his statement off the robots he judges, which are most likely decades behind the cutting edge that already exists.

RE: How can he make such a dumb comment?
By Parhel on 10/2/2007 4:57:32 PM , Rating: 2
That depends on how you define intelligence.

I don't think that a machine has been created yet that has anything that could be really be called intelligence, and I am skeptical that it is even possible.

You could program a robot to perform more and more complex tasks, but it is still simply executing a program.

So, I would side with the author on this one. If we had an intelligence scale for animals, and a dog could be measured as scoring a 20 and a lizard a 2 for instance, I think that even the highest tech computers and robots built specifically to simulate intelligent behavior would score a zero.

By rippleyaliens on 10/2/2007 6:39:43 PM , Rating: 2
Woz has a good point.
It is one thing to teach a robot on how to clean your carpet, or get your coffee. It is another thing to have a robot actually KNOW how to clean your carpet, or actually make a good cup of coffee. Someone mentioned that they were making coffe at kindagarden. But in reality you were mimicking what you saw.

Same thing in life. The human brain is indeed complex. What we do everyday, may be borring, yet technically we are 20-30 years before a computer can come close to mimicking. Computers can run all our wars, technically, yet not 1 computer can reason and actually deduct the purpose of war.. that is AI- not mimicking, but actually Reasoning and Deduction.
Kid touches a hot iron, BOOM he knows for all time it is hot, and thinks of crafty ways to grab it for the rest of their life. A robot senses heat, yet there is no logic to tell it "why am i grabbing, what is a better way, or is there a different approach to accomplishing the same thing"
Until then, PS3 will just have to do.

By BladeVenom on 10/2/2007 9:45:35 PM , Rating: 2
I find this comment to be rather idiotic on his part, especially if he judges robot competitions. This tells me that on this one thing he has not really done his homework. There are already robots out there that ARE smarter then many pets.

Show me the robot that has the coordination and balance of the average house cat. The last I heard, robots with a natural gait were a recent invention, and still didn't walk as well as a toddler.

By mindless1 on 10/2/2007 11:37:03 PM , Rating: 2
No, computers are fast but require direct command programming. It will take orders of magnitude more advanced programming to reach a pre-programmed response to stimuli that can emulate "smart" to the point where it's more than a very simple predefined scenario.

The point being, it's not smarts that allow a robot to do complex things, it's just following line after line of instructions. If Woz says robots will never be able to do this, he has to be saying it as a limitation of the human ability to program it to happen, or to reach a breakthrough in real AI such that the speed of the computer can offset the experimental complexity (time required) to accomplish the goal.

By SmokeRngs on 10/4/2007 11:26:50 AM , Rating: 2
Now granted we don't have any robots with human like intelligence, but I know that there are universities that do have robots that (with some modifications) could be taught how to make a cup of coffee. Several other companies have robots that can walk like a human.

I believe a point you are missing is that while a computer or robot can be programmed with a set of instructions to carry out a task and complete it, that same machine does not have the capability to "learn" things on its own.

For example, let's say you have a robot that is physically capable of running a standard coffee maker. However, this robot was programmed to vacuum your floors. Current technology/programming/algorithms (to my knowledge) are not advanced to a point where that same robot would be able to learn how to operate the coffee maker of it's own volition. Someone may be able to update the robot with the proper instructions to use the coffee maker as well as vacuum the floor, but the robot would never be able to "learn" that on it's own.

The reason the statement was made that just about any pet is smarter than a computer is because the pet can observe and learn new things on its own. With the current state of AI, it's not possible for a robot or computer to do the same.

For a robot or AI to do this, it would need to be able to write new complex instructions/code/programming on it's own. I do not know of any computer system which can do this at this time.

I'm not saying it's not possible in the future for AI to do something like this but at the current time it's not truly possible. Eventually, I believe this will be possible.

By Visual on 10/3/2007 5:33:53 AM , Rating: 1
well he's a fool to make such claims. and his example is even stupider than him.
making coffee doesn't require intelligence at all. hell, you can even consider a modern coffee machine to be just that - a robot that makes coffee. but if that's not enough, i don't see any problem at all in having a humanoid robot walk to his house, go in, find the coffee machine and make a cup, then find him and force him to drink it, even inject it intravenously if should be, all the while reciting his own dumb statements about what's possible and what not. and not in any single moment does that have to deal with artificial intelligence at all - it can all be just pre-programmed (well, image recognition would be required, and that is part of the "artificial intelligence" branch of computer science, but is not what most people understand as AI)

RE: fool
By audiomaniaca on 10/8/2007 5:02:05 PM , Rating: 2
You don't get it. Most of the ppl up here don't get it too. Making a coffee with a "coffee machine" is hell easy. This can be called "applied intelligence", that intelligent humans put onto ideas and pre-defined objects.

The point is different. Although I agree with most of the ppl here that "never" is a too strong word, I agree with Woz that making a coffee without ANY human interference is something way complex for our "contemporary machines".

Checkout Marvin Minsky's S.O.D.

RE: fool
By audiomaniaca on 10/8/2007 5:09:34 PM , Rating: 2

Wozniak, AI and Robotics
By Aeolus118 on 10/3/2007 8:25:53 AM , Rating: 2
I am a contemporary of Wozniak and it saddens me to see someone be so down on the future. Perhaps it is all the divorces made him bitter.
I recall people thinking 'who would want a computer in their home', and so on. Events and time make liars of us all.
He MIGHT be correct in the sense we probably won't see a C3PO type robot any time soon, but 'never' is a strong word.
Also, why do we assume robots will take jobs? Maybe we need to be more imaginative in what we want robots to do. Can't they work for us? Earn money for us?
It is too soon to decide what is possible and what is not. The PC exploded onto the world. It was unanticipated even by experts in the field.
Maybe, right now, another "Woz" is creating a future the rest of us haven't seen yet.
My experience has been that only business men see a need to put fences around ideas.

"You can bet that Sony built a long-term business plan about being successful in Japan and that business plan is crumbling." -- Peter Moore, 24 hours before his Microsoft resignation

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