Popular culture has long pondered the question, “If it looks like a human, walks like a human and talks like a human, is it human?” So far the answer has been no. Robots can’t cry, bleed or feel like humans, and that’s part of what makes them different.

But what if they could think like humans?

Biologically inspired robots aren’t just an ongoing fascination in movies and comic books; they are being realized by engineers and scientists all over the world.

While much emphasis is placed on developing physical characteristics for robots, like functioning human-like faces or artificial muscles, engineers in the Telerobotics Research and Applications Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are among those working to program robots with forms of artificial intelligence similar to human thinking processes.

Why Would They Want to Do That?

“The way robots function now, if something goes wrong, humans modify their programming code and reload everything, then hope it eventually works,” said JPL robotics engineer Barry Werger. “What we hope to do eventually is get robots to be more independent and learn to adjust their own programming.”

Scientists and engineers take several approaches to control robots. The two extreme ends of the spectrum are called “deliberative control” and “reactive control.” The former is the traditional, dominant way in which robots function, by painstakingly constructing maps and other types of models that they use to plan sequences of action with mathematical precision.

The robot performs these sequences like a blindfolded pirate looking for buried treasure; from point A, move 36 paces north, then 12 paces east, then 4 paces northeast to point X; thar be the gold.

The downside to this is…

Full story here.