Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the origin of cultibotics in science fiction

To be quite truthful, the dream of having robots take over the task of managing productive land isn't really mine in the sense of having originated it. To be sure I've contributed some detail, but others dreamt it before myself.

The best example of which I'm aware, Robert Silverberg's The World Inside, describes a world divided between urban towers and the land between them. The land between is tended by machines which are themselves tended by people, a rural population with a very different culture from that found in the urban towers.

While the world Silverberg describes is more of a dystopia than a utopia, not least because it is fast approaching limits that it steadfastly denies, that aspect of the book, the use of intelligent machines to enable a superior grade of land management than could be achieved without them, rings true.

Reading that book was most likely the beginning of my own obsession with the subject, although I don't clearly remember how it started.

Monday, August 25, 2008

an idea the time for which is growing closer

When I first started thinking about the use of sophisticated robotics on the front line of horticulture/agriculture, performing most or all field operations autonomously, in a detailed manner, I figured it would already have happened by now, or at least be well underway. In any case it was just a question of when, not if; the logic was too compelling to be ignored. Now I'm less confident, although still hopeful.

Clearly I badly misestimated some factor: the rate of progress in computing and robotics, the difficulty of adapting these technologies to the array of tasks involved, the tremendous momentum of business as usual once it becomes a matter of money rather than simply conventional practice, or the degree to which others might share the vision that was burning in my brain.

If anything, I underestimated the rate of progress in computing, which has been going gangbusters since the invention of the personal computer, almost without a break. On the other hand, I probably overestimated the rate of progress in robotics. There's been quite a bit, but we're not yet to the point where you can assemble a complete machine for practically any purpose from readily available parts in stock; that time is still coming, but it isn't here yet.

I think I'm a realist about business momentum. I understand the deep conservatism that guides most investment, and the heavily conventional nature of most marketing types, allowing for only incremental change. No surprises there.

What's left is the difficulty of adapting technology and the degree to which others might comprehend and share my vision, two factors I believe to be connected in a sort of chicken-egg (which comes first) relationship.

It's easier to imagine a field being managed by robotic machinery if you have an example of such a machine sitting in front of you. On the other hand it's easier to think about building such a machine if you have a clear idea of what all it's supposed to be able to do, and how fast it will have to work to succeed, with what safeguards - basic design parameters.

Lacking the means to contribute much in the way of machine design, I've concentrated on elaborating and pushing the vision, hoping others better positioned to work on the hardware might become interested. I've also made a couple of false starts in the direction of working to build a community of experimenters, and continue to mull over how best to go about this.

So, for the time being, what you can expect from this blog is further exploration of the vision, and a lot less of the sort of navel-gazing found in this and previous posts.

When there's news to share regarding the development of a community, I'll post it here. Until then, welcome to my dream...