Domo arigato Mr. PR2 roboto?

Before I start discussing my topic in-depth, I first would like to address a few things:

First, I have never doubted the fact that one day during my lifetime, the age of robots will come.

Q: Do I think that this could prove to be potentially awesome, given that the robots follow Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics?”

A: Probably, though I revisit the theory numerous times in my head, as I’m sure there’s a loophole somewhere. I just feel it. Those suckers are just waiting to take over.

Q. Would I be apprehensive if robots became more commonplace?

A. Oh, hell yeah.

Q. Would I care if robots took over the world as long as I got to keep my own super fancy butler robot?

A. What? Did someone mention there might be a problem?? Huh? I need a soda, where’s Armando?

While 2011 saw a number of advancements in the field of robotics, by far the most popular robot out of the bunch is the PR2, created by the team at Willow Garage.

One of the many things for which the PR2 is famous involves one of its most recent upgrades. The PR2 is now capable of understanding the command, “Buy me a sandwich,” along with understanding every single possibilities that such a request can imply. The robot first processes the request by using what is called a semantic search. With this kind of search, the robot uses its on-board searchable database to evaluate and eventually come to a complete understanding of the questioner’s intent, along with the contextual meaning of the request. This enables the PR2 to fully understand the request enough (and when I say fully, I can’t even begin to imagine the number of scenarios the robot has stored in its data center) that it will buy a sandwich when asked. You want to know what’s even cooler? When the PR2 was asked to buy a sandwich, but was unable to locate any in its surrounding area, the PR2 strolled on down to Subway and asked the “sandwich artist” there for a sandwich. Not only is this robot smart and able to take care of itself, but it makes healthy food choices as well.

What I’m the curious to know is just what in the world that sandwich guy was thinking the moment the PR2 robot walked into the food establishment, as robots don’t even need to eat!!?! What would you think if a robot just up and waltzed into the door to your shop and asked for, let’s say… a rubix cube? (You don’t think it would ask for one? Think again.) And NO saying that because the sandwich artist is Japanese, he’s used to robots walking about; that’s just not right. Shame on you.

I wonder what the PR2 used as payment?

Here’s a video of the PR2 on his sandwich quest:

I find the fact that the PR2 was capable of sandwich-shopping to be commendable feat on behalf of the guys at Willow Garage robots research laboratory. Hopefully those guys give poor PR2 a break, instead of always sending him out to grab a pizza and beer.

You know what’s also super-neat about the PR2 robot? Aside from taxes and shipping fees, you can have one of your very own for only $400,000! Rest assured that they’ll explain every single thing you’ll be getting with the purchase of your “robot system.” I love how they intersperse extremely technical components with stuff like “Wi-Fi.” In case you’re interested in everything you’ll get with the purchase of the PR2 robot, check out this link.

If you’re interested in the other activities its capable of performing, you should know that the PR2 not only plays pool and folds towels, but will also grab you a beer upon request, though I’m not sure if they know the difference between international and domestic; we can always hope.

All of these fancy functions are cool to see, but focusing on these novelties detracts attention away from the things that truly make the PR2 great.

The PR2 is known as a “robot for research and innovation,” a description that I’ll attempt to elaborate upon. Its ROS (robot operating system for all you slow-pokes out there) is completely open source, meaning that anyone can access and use it for making changes to the system or creating their own programs for personal or commercial use. While this makes it sound like Willow Garage is being ripped off, they are instead offering an innovative and awesome opportunity for developers across the world. The PR2 is meant, above all, to serve as a research and development platform. As research facilities and academic institutions across the world already have PR2 robots, the goal that’s being worked toward now involves a combination of efforts from across the world in order to advance the open source community, while making more frequent and faster advancements in the robotics industry.

Do you guys understand exactly how cool this is? One team developed a robot, while a group of scientists across the world can take same robot and program it to perform new tasks. The President and CEO of Willow Garage stated that “the introduction of PR2 SE will only help to grow an already passionate community of researchers, engineers and robotocists.” I can see it happening, and encourage this type of scientific progress completely. Also of note: I’m not sure what is meant by the “SE” in the above quote, so I’m just going to assume that it means “standard edition,” and that they plan on coming out with a collector’s edition later in the year.

Should you be interested in learning more about the PR2 robots, you can check out YouTube for additional videos from by Willow Grove, along with visiting their site.

Does Working as a Content Monkey Stifle Your Creativity?

For starters, some of you may be wondering what constitutes a “content monkey.” Its meaning is similar to that of a “code monkey,” if you are familiar with that term. As a freelance writer, the only way to make decent money is by churning out article after article. In this world, your words are used for content that your client posts somewhere on the web – or, if you’re lucky, a newspaper or magazine. Our job is to research and write about whatever topic your client has in mind; there is little to no creative process involved. If your days and nights of freelance writing consist of following a client’s instructions while composing text after text… you have probably morphed into a content monkey. I doubt that anyone who has ever wanted to become a writer aspires to write for others as their lifelong career; yet, this is how many of us get our start and pay our dues. The question now becomes can we, as writers, be satisfied by only writing for others?

content (?) monkey

The most important aspect to the writing process is creativity. How else can you come up with clever topics, witty yet poignant sentences and ultimately a piece of literature that captures the attention of others? However, just like a muscle needs to be worked out to stay in shape, so does the creative process of an author. One must practice. One must write ideas down on paper, only to crumple them up and start over. One must come up with new and innovative material. But, if all we do is write for others, how are we supposed to exercise our creativity? While one might assume that any kind of writing helps you to improve, I have to wonder if being a content monkey doesn’t interfere with our creative processes.

Unlike writing professional articles, which adhere to strict grammatical and style guidelines, writing creatively gives you the opportunity to throw out everything you ever learned and write how you want. Creative writers have to learn to dismiss these rules, writing from their heart instead of their heads — or, if you’d prefer, writing from their right brain as opposed to their left. Unfortunately, after sticking to a set of rules for so long, it’s hard to escape them. Even while I’m trying to do some creative writing, the rules are right there, appealing to the logic center of my brain and putting a halt in my creative process.

I’m not dismissing the perks of being a freelance writer. I think that every writer should strive to become a “renaissance” writer who is capable of producing any type of text required: news articles, short stories, instruction manuals, poetry, romantic copy, advertisements, website content or a novel, for example.

So, how does a writer stop from being cornered by writing manuals and grammar books? I don’t have a solid answer to that question; part of the reason I decided to write on this topic was to explore the idea more, while hoping for some thoughtful feedback from other writers. For me, I try to stay in touch with my creative side by writing blogs – although I still feel pressure to write professionally – and by coming up with ideas for stories. Don’t let this post mislead you; despite my concerns, I still love being a freelance writer. I wouldn’t change a thing… well, except maybe the pay, but that will increase with time (one can hope!)

In my next post, I am planning to talk about the life of the freelance writer in more detail, including ways to start your own freelance writing career and useful tools of the trade. 

Until then…

jt