Can robots be called scientists?

The production of scientific knowledge by robots

According to dictionaries, the term “scientist” refers to anyone who engages in a systematic activity to gain knowledge. Scientific knowledge arose from the human need to understand and manipulate the various natural phenomena. During antiquity, the Greeks believed that a scientific fact could be discovered through reason or be attributed to the action of the Gods. Ibn al-Haytham, Arabic physicist and mathematician, disagreed. He was the first scientist in history to insist that scientific theories should be proven through a certain pattern — the scientific method. To develop this statement, René Descartes proposed to come to the truth through systematic doubt and the decomposition of the problem in small parts, characteristics that defined the basis of scientific research.

The scientific method begins with observation and the formulation of questions. Then a hypothesis arises for the phenomenon, which is tested through experimentation and analysis of its results, which leads to completion. The title or label of “being a scientist” is feasible to those who somehow seek knowledge through scientific research. Therefore, doing science is not the privilege of a particular type of person or culture. Robotics is in an instance of non-remote reality and, because of this, this technology is being used for the production of science through scientific methodology.

Author Martin Ford, in his book “The Threat of a Jobless Future,” says that “[..] organizations register inconceivable amounts of information about virtually every aspect of their operations and a large number of tasks and functions are likely to be encapsulated in these data — waiting for the day when the learning algorithm of a smart machine show up and start self-instructing by searching for the record left by your human predecessors. ” This phenomenon is popularly known as “Big Data” and illustrates the ease with which robots, having access to this huge amount of data, could — and can — produce scientific knowledge and formulate their own hypotheses. Artificial intelligence and machine learning merge with robotics, generating an intelligent system capable of recognizing the state in which it is, analyzing the possibilities of action and making the decision on how to act according to its objective.

An example of this is the iCubs, humanoid robots developed by the RobotCub Consortium, whose goal is to understand how human consciousness works, developed so that their way of learning was analogous to that of a child. This android has sensors to reproduce our senses of vision and hearing and, with supervised machine learning algorithms, it is able to process the information received by the sensors and form associations between words uttered by a person and images displayed. That is, he has the ability to learn.

The iCub

Each year, artificial intelligence applications surprise with their results and the robots that implement them are evolving at a fast pace. iCub was developed in 2004, so the latest ones have even more advanced technologies. Thus, robots have the necessary ability to act in research using the scientific methodology — provided that they are programmed to do so and have the necessary data, not representing, in fact, a limitation — which supports the assertion that robots can definitely be called scientists.

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Rafaela Cordeiro

Brasileira, viciada em café e nas histórias que geralmente o acompanham.