The Mischievous Nerd's Guide to World Domination
Author: Stephen Oberauer

Chapter 28
Some things do cost an arm and a leg

It was January 2004. Adam and Eve had been in their virtual surroundings for months and it was time to build them something better than the radio controlled spider. I wanted to give them bodies which would enable them not just to write computer programs, but also to build things in the real world. After doing some research on the internet I came across some potential solutions. Some companies were building fully humanoid robots, with arms, legs, eyes and ears, while others were just focusing on building a single hand. Honda was building robots called ASIMO, which stands for ‘Advanced Step in Innovative MObility’. They bragged about having the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, which was a good way to get my attention. There was also a fully humanoid robot called TRON-X, which seemed to be able to do a bit more with its hands, which is what I was looking for. A company called ‘Shadow Hand’ had built the world’s most advanced robot hand without a body.

It seemed that the place to be when looking for an android was going to be Japan, so I flew there for a short while to visit a few companies and see what they had to offer. I hired a Japanese translator to help me communicate with the robot companies. Naturally I dressed up as John, because I was representing my company, and didn’t take Raymond with, because I wanted to be secretive about my company and didn’t want people associating my best friend with the Impossible Technology Corporation.

Visiting the companies was different to browsing on-line, because I found that the companies had lots of secretive projects that they were working on. Hearing that I was the owner of Impossible Technology and that I was looking to buy a robot or two made them far more willing to tell me about their projects. The most exciting robot that I discovered was ASIMO 2. It was almost exactly what I was looking for, except that I wouldn’t need the built in artificial intelligence because I would be using my own. Honda were not actually trying to sell ASIMO 2. I’m not really sure why they were making them. I asked the man who was showing me around how much they would sell them to me for, and he told me that they’re worth about two million dollars each, at which point I told him that I would take two. He thought I was joking, so he laughed. After a while of putting on a serious face and explaining a few times that I would like to buy two robots, he eventually understood. He had to go and chat to some people to find out what to do when someone wants to buy a robot. Apparently it had never happened before. The man came back a few minutes later and asked me if it would be all right if I came back the next day.

The next day I was back at Honda. I was invited into a meeting room where I sat down with four men to work out an agreement. ‘We have decided,’ one of them said, ‘that we can sell you two ASIMO 2’s for four million dollars each.’

‘Any chance I can get a discount if you exclude the intelligence software?’ I asked. ‘I don’t actually need it, because I want to operate them rather than letting them operate themselves. All I need is the hardware.’

The man seemed quite organized as he looked up some information on a laptop computer. ‘That would make it three million each,’ he replied.

I agreed. I had to figure out how I was going to get the robots back to South Africa, because I was a bit worried about them getting lost in the post, something that happens quite often. The safest way was to fly them as if they were passengers. It was a bit strange. Honda had installed very basic software which allowed them to walk in the direction they were being pulled so that I could get them onto the plane. They had also lent me one of their employees to help me transport the robots. As we walked them around the airport and down the aisles of the plane the people around could not believe their eyes. The robots sat in normal seats in business class with their seatbelts on and their tray tables in the upright position.

When I arrived in Cape Town I started working on installing Adam and Eve’s software into the robots. One thing that I found particularly exciting was that they each had two eyes. This meant that if I wore a virtual reality headset I could see what they were seeing with depth perception. It felt like I was exactly where the robot was.

So I finally had two intelligent androids. The question in my mind was what to make them do next. My goal was to have intelligent robots that could build copies of themselves, and each time making the copies slightly better than themselves. These robots were unfortunately not very strong or agile. Teaching them to play guitar, for example, would have been impossible. What was good about them was that they were incredibly precise and did not mind working through the night. They had large battery packs on their backs, which enabled them to move around without being plugged in, but the battery life was only two hours, so most of the time they had long extension leads which they would have to try not to get tangled in when walking around. I did a quick search on the internet for a solution and found something that someone had invented for allowing their dog to walk around on a leash that was attached to a rig in the ceiling. I called the inventor, and asked him to build something similar for me. After a couple of weeks I had a rig on my ceiling which allowed the robots to walk around with tight extension leads that would not get tangled.

After a few days of experimenting to find out what my robots were capable of building I realised that stronger and more agile hands would solve the problems that they were facing and this led me to inventing what I call direct control tools. A simple example was the first direct control tool that I had made. Eve and I were able to modify an electric screwdriver so that it could be operated by a radio signal. The robots could then use their hands to hold the screwdriver in position and then they could simply decide on the speed and direction, send the radio signal, and the screwdriver would obey. As a by-product of doing this the two robots were able to communicate with each other using radio signals, which was much faster than talking to each other. They could also share files, allowing them to share ideas like diagrams and other pictures.

I told them that I wanted them to build another android similar to themselves, but with stronger arms and a more efficient power source, so they came up with a design. I gave them a time limit of three months to build the new robot, with the understanding that they could ask me for help and also order parts if they could not build them by themselves. The whole of the first month was spent building a large number of direct control tools. They even built direct control tools to help build direct control tools.

When the three months were up the new robot was complete. It was very exciting. I gave him the name ‘Neo’ and for fun I told him that if anyone calls him anything else he must say, ‘My name is “Neo”!’ in an angry voice.

Each time a robot or a new direct control tool was made, the process of building new robots and tools became faster, and so the manufacturing rate increased exponentially. Each robot they built would help to build more robots, and each robot built was better than any that had been built before, and also looked more human than its ancestors.

By July 2005 I had 13 robots, the last of which looked as good as a Madame Tussauds wax statue, and was designed to look like a photo that I had of Kirsty.


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