Robots, Real and Fictional, Honored at Hall of Fame Four robots were recently inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame — two of the robots are famous ones enjoyed by kids and TV audiences, while the other two are not exactly household names. A group of robot enthusiasts has been picking their favorite machines in both real life and in pop culture since 2003.
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Robots, Real and Fictional, Honored at Hall of Fame

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Robots, Real and Fictional, Honored at Hall of Fame

Robots, Real and Fictional, Honored at Hall of Fame

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Let's think now about the distant future, about a time when the world is run by robots. It's Science Out of the Box. Those ruling androids will look back to pioneers of the robot revolution, Sojourner, the NASA rover that trekked over Mars, and Hal, the bossy computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey." And they'll definitely look back to 2003 when the Robot Hall of Fame opened.

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce stopped in Pittsburgh this week for this year's induction ceremony.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Right now the Robot Hall of Fame has no physical hall you can walk through. That will come next year when the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh opens a new exhibit. Tonight the center is just hosting a party. Right inside the door, guests are greeted by what seems to be an astonishing little robot called Quasi.

QUASI (Robot): You guys want to hear some awesome robot jokes?

Unidentified Male: Yeah.

QUASI: What do you call on a robot who's always getting lost?

Unidentified Male: What?

QUASI: R2 Detour.

Professor DON MARINELLI (Drama, Carnegie Mellon University): It's amazing how many people think, wow, artificial intelligence has really come of age. It's, like, no, no, it's an actor. There's an actor behind it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Don Marinelli says Quasi is not actually a robot. It's a high tech puppet. Marinelli is a drama professor at Carnegie Mellon University, which founded the Robot Hall of Fame. He says people are so used to seeing robots in movies and TV that they now have totally unrealistic expectations of a robot should be able to do in real life. So this was the first controversy faced by the builders of the Robot Hall of Fame. Should they include famous fake robots or just real ones?

Prof. MARINELLI: There was a real concern that the fictional robots would skew people's expectations so that when they saw a robot that did widgets, it would seem somehow less impressive than Gort, which could incinerate the earth.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Gort, of course, is from the movie, "The Day the Earth Stood Still." And he's in the Hall of Fame, because it turns out, the Hall will accept fantasy robots, along with real world ones like Unimate, the first industrial robot. It did dull repetitive work on a GM assembly line in 1961. Marinelli is on a jury of distinguished scientists and artists who get together every year to decide what else should be in the Hall.

Prof. MARINELLI: There is definitely tension and conflict when it comes to deciding who should get in first.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: One exception was when jury member Arthur C. Clarke nominated one of his own fictional creations.

(Soundbite of movie "2001: A Space Odyssey")

Mr. KEIR DULLEA (Actor): (As Dr. Dave Bowman): Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

Mr. DOUGLAS RAIN (Actor): (As Hal 9000) I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: No one said, I can't do that to Clarke, even though Hal is usually considered a computer.

Prof. MARINELLI: Nobody was willing to say, but Sir Arthur, how is a lens and a red light - I mean, we didn't want to go there - with, like, sure, Hal, why not?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Sometimes the robots that don't win can feel hurt.

Mr. ANTHONY DANIELS (Actor): And rather cruelly, R2D2 was one of the first inductees.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Anthony Daniels says it was cruel because he played the other famous "Star Wars" robot, C3PO, the tall golden one that wasn't in the first group of inductees. He says C3PO wasn't bitter exactly.

Mr. DANIELS: He just noticed it and was a little silent when R2 came home boasting that his memorial plaque that he'd been given. But all was right the next year.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's because the next year C3PO got in too. And now the man inside the gold suit serves as master of ceremonies.

Unidentified Male: For the Robot Hall of Fame, Anthony Daniels.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: This year only one fictional invention got in; Lieutenant Commander Data from "Star Trek." He was joined by real robots like Mindstorms, the popular LEGO kit, plus NavLab 5; that's a high tech minivan that drove itself from Pittsburgh to San Diego in 1995. Another inductee was the Raibert Hopper; a one-legged robot invented by Marc Raibert in the early 1980s.

Mr. MARC RAIBERT (Inventor): All it does is hop around in a lab, go back and forth.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But Raibert says the Hopper pioneered new ideas about balance and motion that let other robots walk in a much more natural way. So even though this electronic pogo stick will look incredibly humble next to famous sci-fi characters in the Robot Hall of Fame, it's just the kind of real world technology that might someday make them a reality.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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