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On the contrary, there are compelling indications that both are true. Molecular biology and neuroscience are steadily uncovering the physical mechanisms underlying life and mind but so far have addressed mainly the simpler mechanisms. Evidence that simple functions can be composed to produce the higher capabilities of nervous systems comes from programs that read, recognize speech, guide robot arms to assemble tight components by feel, classify chemicals by artificial smell and taste, reason about abstract matters and so on.

I imagine a machine low enough to fit under some furniture, with an even lower extendable brush, that returns to a docking station to recharge and disgorge its dust load. Such machines could open a true mass market for robots. Commercial success will provoke competition and accelerate investment in manufacturing, engineering and research. Vacuuming robots ought to beget smarter cleaning robots with dusting, scrubbing and picking-up arms, followed by larger multifunction utility robots with stronger, more dexterous arms and better sensors.

There will be other ways to accomplish each stage of an application program, from the minutely specific (grasp the handle underhand or overhand) to the broadly general (work indoors or outdoors). As jobs are repeated, alternatives that result in positive reinforcement will be favored, those with negative outcomes shunned. Slowly but surely, second-generation robots will work increasingly well. A monkeylike five million MIPS will permit a third generation of robots to learn very quickly from mental rehearsals in simulations that model physical, cultural and psychological factors.

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