ROBOTS played by Haley Joel Osment (left) and Jude Law (right) in the new movie A.I.
Perhaps you're one of many Americans who flocked to movie theaters this past weekend to see Steven Spielberg's new film, A.I., so named for the scientific field on which it's based, artificial intelligence. The moviewhich expands on a short story, Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, by science-fiction writer Brian Aldissposes one central question: Can a robot, in this case a mechanical boy named David, be programmed to love?

For many researchers investigating real-world A.I, the question isn't "if," but rather "when." Hans Moravec, founder of Carnegie Mellon Universitys mobile robot laboratory, has predicted that "home robots"to vacuum or fetch the paper, saywill be available in another nine or 10 years. And in his December 1999 article for Scientific American, called Rise of the Robots, Moravec suggests that machine intelligence will rival that of humans as soon as 2050.

Marvin Minsky, a visionary at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founding father of artificial intelligence, is also highly optimistic. Playing into our worst fears, he asserts that, yes, robots will inherit the earth. The good news, Minsky says, is that they will be our children. Or maybe our children's children. (We can hope our descendents are less conflicted about their computerized kids than Spielberg's characters, Henry and Monica Swinton.)

So how much time do we have to prepare? As an exercise in honor of the new movie, Scientific American decided to go back to the presentand our own recent pastand recast A.I. with real scientists and robots from today. You'll find our short list below.

CAST for A.I., 2001

If you saw the film, you no doubt remember when David sits down to have dinner with his new parents and carefully imitates Monica twirling spaghetti around a fork. Today most robots don't learn by trial and error, the way David does. Instead they have set patterns of behavior programmed into them. But Rodney Brooks of M.I.T. is hoping that one of his creations, Cog, will learn like a baby through experimentation. Haley Joel Osment, who plays David in A.I., actually went to M.I.T. to meet Cog in May.

Here's Looking at You: Cog

David's stuffed bear Teddy is, not surprisingly, just like hima robot. Teddy is a clearly a toy and less sophisticated than David. But he trumps Furby any day. His closest contemporary rival may be Sony's mechanical mutt, Aibo. This computerized, chihuahua-size gray plastic dog learns to chase balls, among other tricks, and charmed the editors at Scientific American when the magazine recently reviewed it. Aibo can also recognize a specific name, follow commands andif you switch it offplay dead.

Kibbles and Bytes

Dr. Allen Hobby
Since its inception, the field of artificial intelligence has attracted a number of true believers like the film character, Allen Hobby, who decides to try to create a robot that can love. Some of the most well-known A.I. experts include Hans Moravec, Marvin Minsky and Rodney Brooks, all mentioned above, as well as Ray Kurzweil, Herbert Simon, Bill Joy, Raj Reddy and David Gelernter. The article below describes future predictions they made at an A.I. conference last year.
Artificial Intelligentsia

Perhaps more than any company now churning out primitive robots, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at M.I.T. boasts many fascinating research projects. The Leg Laboratory is developing robots that can walk and run; the Oxygen Project is helping to create intelligent environments; and the Humanoid Robotics Group is home not only to Cog but to its siblings, including Kismet, who mimics facial expressions; mobile Coco; and Macaco, a robotic dog head.
A.I. lab at M.I.T.

Gigolo Joe and the Mechas

Jude Law's character in A.I.--a sex-slave robot, or mecha, named Gigolo Joe--is a lot more sophisticated than today's automatons. But robots can already pull off some pretty nifty tricks. Mechanically, they can walk, wheel and hop their way through space, negotiating turns and bumps. And computatively, the most advanced machines play chess, perform surgery and even take cues from nerve impulses in live animals. The stories below feature a few of the more interesting lab-borne bots of late.

Enter Robots, Slowly

In the Waiting Room: Robotic Surgery

The Smallest Robot Ever

Hopping Robots

Roaches at the Wheel

Monkey See, Robot Do

Dawn of a New Species

Robots vs. Humans: Who Should Explore Space?

Computers, Games and the Real World

The Deep Blue Team Plots Its Next Move

Deep Blue, Round Two

Can Deep Blue Think?