Take a seat in the bar and order a drink from Bar Bot, the fully
automated robot waiter. But be aware, this waiter is not here to quench
your thirst. Motivated by self-interest, Bar Bot will do anything to get
some money to buy beer...
Helena: No, you don't understand me. What we really want is to - to liberate the Robots.
Helman: How do you propose to do that?
Helena: They are to be dealt with like human beings.
Helman: Aha. I suppose they're to vote? To drink beer? To order us about?
(from the theatre play "R. U. R. - Rossum's Universal Robots" by Karel Capek)
Robots are usually designed to serve humans. In recent years robotics
research has concentrated on robots that closely mimic essential human
features. Thus Hondas humanoid robot P3 is capable of independently
climbing a staircase, although 20 technicians are needed to keep it
balanced. The Bar Bot, a fully automated robot waiter in the DEAF04
exhibition bar, raises the question of what exactly makes a robot human.
At first sight Bar Bot looks like a normal robot there to serve bar
guests, but its true nature quickly becomes apparent.
Bot can recognize bar guests with its special video camera eye. As soon
as you stand in front of it, it asks you for money and holds out its
hand. Then it calculates how much change it has received. If this is
enough for a beer, it goes to the bar and orders one. The Bar Bot thus
possesses a number of traits that are characteristic of people, such as
social interaction, facial recognition and intelligence. It functions in
the limited environment of the bar as an autonomous being; all that it
lacks is a will of its own. But what would happen if the Bar Bot stopped
serving humans and started serving itself?
The Bar Bot was
designed to put this thought experiment into practice. Whereas robots
always serve others, humans usually act out of self-interest, or in the
interest of the social group to which they belong. The Bar Bot is
equally egotistical. Driven by self-interest, it will do anything it can
to get money for beer. Its goal, however, is not to quench our thirst,
but get as much beer as possible inside itself. But to do this it
depends on others. Open communication becomes vital, for only through
social interaction can it get its hands on a beer. The Bar Bot may be
the most human robot ever built.
Time's Up, (AT/AU) in collaboration with Humanoid Robotics Laboratory
Linz Kultur, Land Oeberoesterreich, BKA.Kunst, EU culture 2000 Program
(Text DEAF04, 2004)