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Thermostats, Toasters, Softbots, and HAL

Some of the first questions posed to us in this course are the following Questions To Ponder (Unit 1):

  1. Is a thermostat a robot?
  2. Is a toaster a robot?
  3. Some intelligent programs, also called software agents, such as Web crawlers, are called “softbots.” Are they robots?
  4. Is HAL, from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a robot?

The only one I found to be a bonafida robot was HAL, but I see examples of each of the first three as students' final projects. Maybe I got it wrong, and these are robots? They don't seem to be, though.

I 'suppose the thermostat could be thought of a as a purely reactive robot. It senses the environment's temperature, and its bi-metal strip (or whatever type of temperature sensor) acts nearly directly (there is usually some hysteresis included) to adjust it as needed. The toaster doesn't have sensors -- it just heats its coils until a timer runs out. Some toasters have an over-temperature circuit, which, though it's primary purpose is to measure its own temperature, is related to the environmental temperature and can thus be seen as an environmental sensor -- is that type a robot? Surely not.

The definition is loose. The only purpose of asking whether or not some gadgets are robots is to encourage discussion, as, for many devices, there are no wrong answers, only arguments and opinions.


Related questions and answers:


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