A robot in human form or a biological robot;
androids have been a mainstay of science fiction since the 1920s when they
first appeared in Karel Capek's film RUR. The first modern use of
the term may have been in Jack Williamson's The Cometeers (1936,
book version 1950). The distinction between mechanical robots and organic
androids was popularized by Edmond Hamilton in his Captain Future series
a few years later, and had become a feature of mainstream press discussion
of SF by 1958. In more recent times, the most endearing fictional android
has been Mr. Data of the television series, Star
Trek: the Next Generation.
Conceivably, such creatures will eventually be built as artificial
intelligence, achieved through the use of powerful, general-purpose
neural networks, is encapsulated
within a sophisticated, lifelike framework. Androids would be particularly
useful for interstellar missions, since their appearance and behavior could
be made sufficiently human for them to blend in well with biological crew
members At the same time, their superhuman capabilities would allow them
safely to test the waters of potentially hostile environments. An even stranger
possibility is that, at some future point, human beings may decide to evolve
into androids themselves. Replacing a frail, short-lived biological body
with an effectively immortal substitute made of indestructible materials
might be an option worth considering for interstellar travelers. Not only
would they be better equipped to deal with otherwise life-threatening emergencies
but they would not have to worry about growing old on potentially long journeys
between the stars (see interstellar travel).
Whether such a melding of man and machine will ever transpire, it seems
certain that high levels of machine intelligence and sophisticated robotics
will play a crucial part in our and other races' explorations of the Galaxy.
Sensitive skin for androids
The day of the android may still be some way off but scientists are already
evolving aspects of the technology that these creatures may depend upon.
In 2005, researchers at the University of Tokyo announced they had developed
a flexible artificial skin that could give androids and robots a humanlike
sense of touch. The team manufactured a type of "skin" capable of sensing
pressure and another capable of sensing temperature. It is, say the researchers,
supple enough to wrap around robot fingers and relatively cheap to make.
Takao Someya and his colleagues used electronic circuits as pressure sensors
and semiconductors as temperature
sensors. They embedded these sensors in a thin plastic film to create a
net-like matrix. Organic materials The transistors used in the circuits
and the semiconductors both use "organic" materials based on chains of carbon
atoms. This makes them mechanically flexible and relatively inexpensive
- Moravec, Hans. Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind. New
York: Oxford University Press (1998).