Rodney Brooks at Solid: Why machines should surprise us and why we shouldn’t be scared

Rodney Brooks, Founder and CTO of Rethink Robotics, at the O’Reilly Solid Conference, May 21, 2014


In the old days software seemed pretty deterministic. If you ran your program 10 times it got the same answer all ten times. Once software was connected to the internet however, the results became less deterministic. Apart from network delays and connectivity issues we are never surprised when search results for the same query change from day to day, or respond in different ways depending on what email we’ve recently received. And our smart phones change the things they can do as their software is upgraded. We’ve gotten used to that and expect it. But mostly we still expect our machines that do physical work to act the same way, day to day. We expect our car to perform pretty much the same today as it did last week, and our coffee grinder to grind just as before. But as our machines become more intelligent and as their software is continuously updated they are going to surprise us more and more as they change their behavior with macro scale impacts in the physical world. And some customers for machines don’t like that. We’re all going to take a while to get used to a new class of physically interacting machines, that continually surprise us, in our daily lives.