Parties have a way of generating outrageous ideas. Most don't survive the night, but a scheme that bubbled to the surface at a 1992 event held by Rodney A. Brooks of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is changing the way researchers think about thinking. Brooks, the head of M.I.T.'s artificial intelligence laboratory, was celebrating the switch-on date of the fictitious Hal 9000 computer, which appeared in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. As he reflected that no silicon brain could yet rival Hal's slick mendacity, he was seized by the notion of building a humanoid robot based on biological principles, rather than on conventional approaches to robot design.
The robot, known as