Do robots freeze?

nejaBut shouldn’t that robot have some clothes on when it’s so cold outside? At least a jacket?

I agree, it sounds stupid, but even though I know that the robot Helena Lindgren, a scientist at Umeå University, carefully holds in her arms cannot feel the cold, the thought comes to me. And I want to cry out, ”Hold it tight so it want freeze. It’s cold outside! ”

We are heading out from Café Station in Umeå where Helena Lindgren just has held a lunchtime lecture on her research into robots. With her on the stage, she has had Neja, half a meter tall robot that during the lecture sits beside her in an armchair.

Neja looks like a little child, with a head that can turn from side to side, eyes shining, a mouth that speaks, and she even dance with her arms and legs.

I know it is a robot. I know that it can’t make conclusions as a man; I know that it can’t understand concepts such as good and evil or happiness and sadness or hatred and love. But still, inside me I feel pretty the same as if little Neja were a small child. And therefore, when we are standing out on the street, I have to stop myself from shouting ”She has no clothes! Now she’ll freeze! ”

During the lecture, Helena Lindgren has told us about her work as a research leader at the Department of Computing Science at Umeå University and how she and her research group examines how the robot should be able to understand what is important in meeting with people and how to adapt to people’s everyday lives.

This requires smart systems and actually it is these systems that are interesting, not how the little robot can wiggle her head or dance with her foot. The challenge, says Helena Lindgren, is to build knowledge systems that control the robot. For it is not the robot that is smart, it is the information system that controls the robot which is smart.

The vision of the robot is that it can be placed in people’s homes and help perhaps elderly or sick receive support in their daily lives. But then again, the intelligent system that controls the robot has to be able to understand the feelings of a person, and able to detect if the person becomes ill or what the person wants to do.

But it’s not the robot which then makes a decision on how to react to what people in the surrounding area do. It is the intelligent system that does.

It is in that system the smartness can be found.

Slowly we who are listening to Helena Lindgren understands. It is not just this robot Neja. Everything in society is linked to various smart intelligent systems. Traffic surveillance that helps to reduce trafic jams. Smart homes that can save energy with intelligent systems controlling the heat and power. Automation and sensors in smart systems in the factories that control processes and production.

In the business world there is even a word for this. It’s called business intelligence with smart systems that can understand the movements of the market and provide support for decisions that a company must take, sometimes even without anyone within the company needs to react, it goes automatically.

When we begin to understand the scale of this, we face the next big question. Who should have control over these intelligent systems? Who makes the decisions on how they are designed and what information they should be fed.

The little robot Neja turns out to be something even more than just a sweet little friend. She is the visible representation of the smart system behind. Inside her bright twinkling eyes, we can find systems that will steer the development of our society.We need to talk more about these intelligent smart systems.