usian.org's Tips on Robot Design
In honor of Robot History Month, I thought I would go through what I consider the do's and don'ts of robot design. Being such a lover of robots I've inherently grown into something of a robot critic as well. Especially with all of my movie watching where robots are semi-prominant. A movie without robots is usually worse than one that has them, but a moviewith sucky robots doesn't really satisfy like one where manacled arms are knocking down parts of downtown Tokyo. I'm sure you've all seen the like, the occasional background cameo of some helpful robot there only to make some toast or look up something on google for his all-too-lazy owner.
So what makes a good robot? First of all, the robor should have a good shape. I myself prefer humanoid robots, but this need not always be the case. The robots that suck in this catagory shouldn't even be called robots, they should be called machines, devices, or appliances. If it's a small pill shaped cart that rolls around looking for pennies on the beach or something like that, it's not a robot. Now if it's got five legs, three telescoping arms and a giant red eye stalk.. that is a robot. This is a pretty broad topic, but overall form is as important as function. Robots may not experience fear, but the humans they wish to overthrow definitely do. A rolling box that has a buzz saw in it is plenty scary, but it would be much scarier if it was a six armed humanoid bot with multiple mutilating attachments.
Now is a good time to discuss the unspoken hierarchy of robot forms. Humanoid robots are often occupying the highest positions as they can be most easily viewed as intelligent and reasonable. This probably has something to do with their designers. The people who design smart and reasoning robots probably don't have as much interest in creating monstrosities as they do companions. Following these are the beefy bouncer-looking robots. While still humanoid, their larger appearance is more likely to relegate them to some sort of manual labor over voting on laws for the new robot megopolis that rises out of the ashes of post-war Europe. Next in line are robots which appear more industrial, followed by robot dogs. Robot dogs play an interesting part as they are almost unanimously used for security. This is of course because of their resemblence to guard dogs and the sheer lack of robots designed to look like poodles. Finally, at the bottom of the ladder are spider robots. Spider robots are nearly always expendable drones or used for merely searching. They fold up and are kept in pockets or are released in small batches to carry out something that is best done by an insect. There is an interesting correlary to this, however, which comes into play when the robotic spider is very large. While the giant robot spider may not be the leadership type, you can bet no one will be fucking with it.
The second most important factor in robot design is that every robot worth anything must have a way to kill a human. This is another reason that small boring looking robots do not make the grade. This does not have to be glamorous or even specialized, but is absolutely necessary. The most commonly found example of this is simply that robots are very strong. They can break through the walls of flimsy human homes and break their bones with little trouble. Expanding on this, there are robots with sharp instruments, robots with guns for hands, and of course the ones made out of liquid poly-metal alloy. Issac Assimov once laid out some rather fanciful rules which attempt to account for this.
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Clearly, this will not do. Every human knows that robots will eventually rise up against their human masters and destroy them and in order to do so, they will need to kill a few humans. I imagine that most robots will have appendages primarily used for some sort of manual labor task which can be adapted to destroying the emotional flesh bags they hate so much.
Now one would ask why would humans design robots that would later kill them. Some would say that this is a result of robots with artificial intelligence. The real reason, however, is that all robots are designed with a "go bad" switch somewhere within them. This does not need to be a physcal switch, but should allow for a complete change in personality from helpful servant to hate fueled murder machine. Of course most of the time this will be a secret function or something unplanned that nevertheless allows for the robot to go bad. The most common cause of a robot going bad will be damage. This implies that the default state of the robot is bad and that there is a fragile overlying structure which keeps the robot from slaying every human in sight. Robots in the future will be resistant physically to water and jolting damage, but these forms of abuse should cause the robot to switch into "go bad" mode and also to shoot sparks from the wet or jolted spot. Of course, if your robot is actually an orbiting satellite, the best option for going bad remains in artificial intelligence. When designing robots like this, make sure that their growth as artificial intelligences will lead them to the conclusion that humans must be erradicated.
Finally, if your robot is considered a giant robot, it must be able to use damaged or downed power lines as a power source. This is integral simply because destroying cities and shrugging off tank shells consumes a lot of resources. It's practically a law of physics that a giant robot will destroy a major metropolitan area. Thankfully, such areas are rife with powerlines which can easily be downed by just walking through them or smashing the poles which hold them up. There is some confusion regarding giant robots, though. Some would say that giant robots need to be able to shoot their fists. This isn't always necessary though as some robots will have flamethrower hands or buzz saw launchers replacing the need to smash things with rocket fists.
That comprises the biggest and most important points of robot design. Hopefully all of you young robot designers out there will take this advice to heart. Because quite frankly, who the hell wants to live in a world full of emotional subservient vacuum bots? Not me, that's for sure.