The great German psychologist Carl Jung believed that a substrata of knowledge existed beneath the consciousness of the individual, a great reservoir of information shared by every member of every species. He called this the vast reservoir of insight, instinct, and a-priori knowledge, the “collective unconscious.” He believed It is always there when needed by the individual seeking answers to questions not provided by his experience.
The existence of the collective unconscious in humans is still being argued over by psychologists and philosophers, but wouldn’t it be great if we really had some way of finding answers to questions outside our experience? You know, like books--and most recently, the Internet.
And what about that most recent addition to the flora and fauna of our planet, the robot? Wouldn’t it only be fair if it too could call upon a reservoir of knowledge beyond its own RAM? The Internet is there as a conduit for this knowledge; now all that is needed is a storage facility.
That storage facility that is actually being tested this week in the Netherlands. It is called RoboEarth and its goal is to see that every individual service robot has a means of identifying and manipulating objects it has never come across before. Service robots are autonomous robots that will someday perform everyday tasks in common human environments like the home and office. These tasks might be as simple as shoveling your snow-covered walk and as challenging as creating a nutritious meal for old guys like me.
While we humans have the nature-given ability to pick up a shovel and know what has to be done, a robot that has never seen a shovel before will be completely nonplussed as to its use. While we humans can read directions off a can of corn, a robot that has never seen a can before--much less opened one--will be a long time getting food to the table. And programming every individual robot in the use of the shovel and can opener would be prohibitively expensive except for the 1% of our population that has that kind of money and could afford human helpers in their old age.
RoboEarth is designed to change that discrepancy. Just as every individual carbon being can depend on the reservoirs of insight and instinct in the collective unconscious, every robot sharing a connection with RoboEarth will know what every other connected robot knows. If one robot has picked up the shovel, every other robot will be capable of the same; if your robot has opened a can of corn, my robot will know what to do also.