Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineer who directs the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, has shaped most of his career around what some people in his industry have called the c-word.
On a sunny morning this past October, the Israeli-born roboticist sat behind a table in his lab and explained himself. "This topic was taboo," he said, a grin exposing a slight gap between his front teeth. "We were almost forbidden from talking about it — 'Don't talk about the c-word; you won't get tenure' — so in the beginning I had to disguise it, like it was something else."
That was back in the early 2000s, when Dr. Lipson was an assistant professor at Cornell University. He was working to create machines that could note when something was wrong with their own hardware — a broken part, or faulty wiring — and then change their behavior to compensate for that impairment without the guiding hand of a programmer. Just as when a dog loses a leg in an accident, it can teach itself to walk again in a different way.
This sort of built-in adaptability, Dr. Lipson argued, would become more important as we became more reliant on machines. Robots were being used for surgical procedures, food manufacturing and transportation; the applications for machines seemed pretty much endless, and any error in their functioning, as they became more integrated with our lives, could spell disaster. "We're literally going to surrender our life to a robot," he said. "You want these machines to be resilient."From The New York Times
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