Man or Machine – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

A During July 2003, the Museum of Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts exhibited what Honda calls ‘the world’s most advanced humanoid robot’, ASIMO (the Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). Honda’s brainchild is on tour in North America and delighting audiences wherever it goes. After 17 years in the making, ASIMO stands at four feet tall, weighs around 115 pounds and bob like a child in an astronaut’s suit. Though it is difficult to see ASIMO’s face at a distance, on closer inspection it has a smile and two large ‘eyes’ that conceal cameras. The robot cannot work autonomously — its actions are ‘remote controlled’ by scientists through the computer in its backpack. Yet watching ASMIO perform at a show in Massachusetts it seemed uncannily human. The audience cheered as ASIMO walked forwards and backwards, side to side and up and downstairs. It can even dance to the Hawaiian Hula.

B While the Japanese have made huge strides in solving some of the engineering problems of human kinetics and bipedal movements, for the past 10 years scientists at MIT’s former Artificial Intelligence (Al) lab (recently renamed the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, CSAIL) have been making robots that can behave like humans and interact with humans. One of MIT’s robots, Kismet, is an anthropomorphic head and has two eyes (complete with eyelids), ears, a mouth, and eyebrows. It has several facial expressions, including happy, sad, frightened and disgusted. Human interlocutors are able to read some of the robot’s facial expressions, and often change their behaviour towards the machine as a result – for example, playing with it when it appears ‘sad’. Kismet is now in MIT’s museum, but the ideas developed here continue to be explored in new robots.

C Cog (short for Cognition) is another pioneering project from MIT’s former Al lab. Cog has a head, eyes, two arms, hands and a torso — and its proportions were originally measured from the body of a researcher in the lab. The work on Cog has been used to test theories of embodiment and developmental robotics, particularly getting a robot to develop intelligence by responding to its environment via sensors, and to learn through these types of interactions. This approach to Al was thought up and developed by a team of students and researchers led by the head of MIT’s former Al lab, Rodney Brooks (now head of CSAIL), and represented a completely new development.

D This work at MIT is getting furthest down the road to creating human-like and interactive robots. Some scientists argue that ASIMO is a great engineering feat but not an intelligent machine — because it is unable to interact autonomously with unpredictabilities in its environment in meaningful ways, and learn from experience. Robots like Cog and Kismet and new robots at MIT’s CSAIL and media lab, however, are beginning to do this.

E These are exciting developments. Creating a machine that can walk, make gestures and learn from its environment is an amazing achievement. And watch this space: these achievements are likely rapidly to be improved upon. Humanoid robots could have a plethora of uses in society, helping to free people from everyday tasks. In Japan, for example, there is an aim to create robots that can do the tasks similar to an average human, and also act in more sophisticated situations as firefighters, astronauts or medical assistants to the elderly in the workplace and in homes — partly in order to counterbalance the effects of an ageing population.

F So in addition to these potentially creative plans there lies a certain dehumanisation. The idea that companions can be replaced with machines, for example, suggests a mechanical and degraded notion of human relationships. On one hand, these developments express human creativity — our ability to invent, experiment, and to extend our control over the world. On the other hand, the aim to create a robot like a human being is spurred on by dehumanised ideas — by the sense that human companionship can be substituted by machines; that humans lose their humanity when they interact with technology; or that we are little more than surface and ritual behaviours, that can be simulated with metal and electrical circuits.

G The tension between the dehumanised and creative aspects of robots has long been explored in culture. In Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots, a 19 2 1 play in which the term ‘robot’ was first coined, although Capek’s robots had human-like appearance and behaviour, the dramatist never thought these robots were human. For Capek, being human was about much more than appearing to be human. In part, it was about challenging a dehumanising system, and struggling to become recognised and given the dignity of more than a machine. A similar spirit would guide us well through twenty-first century experiments in robotics.

Questions 1-7
Reading Passage 1 has seven paragraphs, A-G. Which paragraph contains the following information? Write the correct letter, A-G, in boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet.

1. The different uses of robots in society
2. How robot is used in the artistic work
3. A robot that was modelled on an adult
4. A comparison between two different types of robots
5. A criticism of the negative effects of humanoid robots on the society
6. A reference to the first use of the word “robot”
7. People feel humanity may be replaced by robots

Questions 8-13
Complete the summary below using NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage. Write your answers in boxes 8-13 on your answer sheet.

It took Honda (8)………………..years to make ASIMO, a human-looking robot that attracted broad interests from audiences. Unlike ASIMO, which has to be controls through a computer installed in the (9)……………, MIT’s scientists aimed to make robot that can imitate human behavior and (10)……………with humans. One of such particular inventions can express its own feelings through (11)…………….. Another innovative project is a robot called (12)…………… which is expected to learn from its environment to gain some (13)………..