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This chapter is from the book

The Absolute Minimum

Gravity. It's not just a good idea. It's the law! In this chapter we looked at principles that might not be as heavy as gravity, but that have helped govern the development of robots and robot-related technologies. If the word "law" made you think of some bad jury duty experience, or a night in jail you'd rather not talk about, and you therefore ran kicking and screaming to this wrap-up section, here's what you missed. We'll try to go easy on the legalese:

  • Despite what many sci-fi fans might think, Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are not taken that seriously among real-world roboticists. Even if they were, we're still so far from robots smart enough to in any way threaten us, that it'll be decades before we'd even need to consider building such fail-safes into robot brains.

  • All hail Moore's Law! It states that computing processing power will double every 18 months. The truth of this law (on the books since 1975) means that some nearly blind computer chip engineer keeps managing to cram more and more microscopic transistors onto the same chip real estate—and that means more processing muscle for you and me (and our robot minions)!

  • Get out your soldering iron and tattoo the following law onto your forehead: V=IxR (voltage equals current times resistance). This is called Ohm's Law and it's very handy when figuring out one of these three values in an electronic circuit if you know the other two. The other calculations are I=V/R and R=V/I. (By the way: We were kidding about the tattooing part.)

  • The computer can smell your fear. That goes for the microcontroller on your robot and the robot itself. Complex machines can appear (at least to those of us who are paranoid) able to tell when it's the worst possible time for them to fail, and that's when they do. So, always have a backup system, a backup plan, and backed-up software. We swear there are little green Gremlins inhabiting our circuits. You can see 'em too, can't you?

  • We decided lawmaking looked like fun, so we crafted some Rules for Roboticists. In a nutshell: Think generally, act specifically, know your stuff, have fun, don't listen to critics, keep it simple, keep it tidy, and in the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, "Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em."

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