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Thinking about robots thinking

By Sarah E M Wiseman, on 15 June 2012

Robot image from Mark StrozierHow do we know we are even thinking?”, the debate was getting existential. In the panel, we had heard from the two roboticists Alan Winfield and Murray Shanahan and a legal expert Lilian Edwards. I could tell that the talk “Can Robots think? Or at least pretend to?” was going to be interesting.

Initially the debate began with Murray Shanahan defining the possible ways in which we might try to get robots thinking. At first it might seem that the only way to do it would be to mimic the human brain, either by modelling it approximately, or perhaps going so far as to create an entire artificial human brain. Due to technical limitations of today’s technology, this one is quite a way off, but creating an artificial mouse brain in the near future is a real possibility.

Though we don’t have to go down the route of mimicking the way humans think, we might want to approach the problem from a completely different viewpoint, and “re-invent” thinking, in much the same way that the Wright brothers’ plane doesn’t exactly copy how birds fly. Can you imagine flying on your holidays in a plane that flapped its wings?