What is a Robot?


Not an easy question. Oxford English Dictionary defines "robot" as an "apparently human automaton, intelligent but impersonal machine..." This seems too simplistic, and begs too many quesitons.

According to the Australian Robotics and Automation Association, there is no standard definition. But the ARAA suggests that a robot has "three essential characteristics:"

The ARAA further notes that:

"The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has developed an international standard vocabulary (ISO 8373) to describe 'manipulating industrial robots operated in a manufacturing environment'. According to this standard such a robot must possess at least three programmable axes of motion."

This technical definition helps ISO keep track of how many robots there are in industrial settings, but seems too limited as a general definition. Why must a robot move in 3 dimensions?

In my view, elevators are actually robots -- limited to travel along a single dimension, but with a brain and behavioural rules that dictate how it responds to environmental stimuli.

According to The Tech Museum of Innovation, "A robot is a machine that gathers information about its environment (senses) and uses that information (thinks) to follow instructions to do work (acts)."

This page defines a robot as "Any machine that does work on its own, automatically, after it is programmed by humans." This definition makes alarm clocks and VCRs, not to mention personal computers, count as robots, which seems a bit broad.

(Say...if a robot is a thinking, moving machine, then an institution is just like a robot, except for the thinking part...)

Other pages about the definition of "robot":

See also: books on robots and some toy robots from Amazon. 


Back to: Socio-Bots: Doing Ethics With Robots

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This site belongs to: Chris MacDonald (chrismac@ethicsweb.ca)