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Snow Robots! (not to be confused with snow clones)

In the past few weeks here in the Boston area, we've had three snowstorms that left a lot of snow piled everywhere. It's made it difficult to get around without boots or YakTrax. A few nights ago, though, it did warm up a bit, and we can all get around again much more easily – at least, until the next snowstorm.

According to an entry in the Brookline TAB Blog four days ago, an elderly woman saw a man using "a robot and a truck" to clear out a parking lot. The TAB located a picture of the likely robot on another blog and linked to it; it looks like a yellow round dome thing with treads and two big eyes.

My only question: will the robot do a better job of following Asimov's First Law of Robotics than some of the current drivers of the snowplows?

For more information, see Brookline TAB Blog: She just wanted to say thanks for the robot.

For a photo of the robot in question, see Newton Streets and Sidewalks: Sidewalk Snowplowing Solution

Comments

Yes, I actually send email like this

There's a point to this. Here's what I sent to some colleagues back in 2004:

As you all know, I have some small interest in robot operations. Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see an expose on the deficiences of the NS-5 ("Nestor") class robot manufactured by the U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men corporation. The NS-5 had been engineered to receive automatic software upgrades from USR; however, this process caused a conflict with hardwired safety programming, causing this newly-released robot to no longer be "Three Laws Safe". I enjoyed the film, but sadly found little application to our own situation here. After seeing the damage done by the end of the film to USR's physical plant and reputation, I'm pleased that we're using a McKesson product to perform our cartfill operations.

A review of the expose can be found via this link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0343818/

Seth

Re: Yes, I actually send email like this

Here was Joseph's reply to my email:

It had not occurred to me before, but has anyone else noticed that our McKesson robot could be viewed as"0-for-3" with respect to the Laws?

First Law:

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. (The "inaction/come to harm" clause is key here; mysteriously missing doses, anyone?)

Second Law:

A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. (Self-explanatory, I think. The McKesson robot's frequent inability to "obey orders" for various reasons have been well documented)

Third Law:

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. (Downtime, crashes, lack of antivirus updating support, etc.)

Of course, as with any robot, the blame for failure to obey these laws can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the humans who programmed/built it (and perhaps a miniscule amount on those of us who work with it and maintain it), but I think it's interesting nonetheless.

Joseph
Over the weekend I've been catching up on Doctor Who Series 3 on DVD. After reading your blog post, I've got this image of Daleks melting snow with their weapons.

"Commence melting operations! Evaporate! Evaporate! Evaporate!"
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