Robot and Artificial Intelligence

(To Sonia Forconi)

We now hear a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Strategic Program for Artificial Intelligence 2022-2024 (see document) defines it as the set of digital models, algorithms and technologies that reproduce perception, reasoning, interaction and learning. The portal of the European Parliament (see link) defines Artificial Intelligence as central element for the digital transformation of society and one of the EU's priorities.

Although not infrequently doubts and "fears" are expressed that can arouse such a vast matter that today totally permeates society and lifestyle, AI is sometimes seen as an added value in daily and working life and at other times as something, which by its nature can introduce significant changes, such as leading to the disappearance of many jobs. In fact, among the various fears we often ask: "With artificial intelligence, will machines (robots) replace humans?"

Dwelling on the question of whether robots and AI will totally replace humans, in this article we will try to clarify some aspects that connect the “world” of robots with that of AI.

To quote the terms that were by Umberto Eco (world famous essayist and intellectual Alessandria, January 5, 1932 - Milan, February 19, 2016) in the comparison between the benefits deriving from technological innovation and the consequences that this process could generate, we find "The comparison between those who foresee a future in which machines will progressively replace the work of man, who will thus lose one of the vital functions capable of ennobling their existence, as opposed to those who instead consider the automation of everything a good precisely because it will allow Man to evolve his skills and devote himself to programming and integrating the machines that will carry out the most tiring, repetitive and uninteresting jobs for him ".

The coexistence of robotics and AI makes it possible to improve the development of machines (robots) capable of supporting workers in specific tasks such as the most repetitive and / or tiring ones, in different sectors of use.

Also in the portal of the European Parliament, among the examples of daily uses and possible uses of AI, also that of robots in factories is listed, arguing that: “AI would help European manufacturers be more efficient. Using robots could help bring factories back to Europe. Furthermore, artificial intelligence can be used to plan sales channels or maintenance. "

Let's start by clarifying the concept of robotics and to do this it is useful to follow official sources. As defined by the "Robotics Research Group" of the University of Oxford, “Robotics is the science that studies the intelligent connection between perception and action in the machine (robot)”.

From the Wikipedia definition “Robotics is the discipline that studies and develops methods that allow a robot to perform specific tasks, automatically reproducing human work. Although robotics is a branch of engineering, more precisely of mechatronics (mechanics + electronics), it brings together approaches from many disciplines both of a humanistic nature, such as linguistics, and of a scientific nature: biology, physiology, psychology, electronics, physics, computer science, mathematics and mechanics ".

The discipline develops from the desire of man to create artificial and autonomous machines, such as robots, which are able to simulate human work and equipped with artificial intelligence.

In the multidisciplinary context of robotics, artificial intelligence is only one of the components, among other things the most recent.

At the same time, giving a univocal definition of Robot is not at all simple, because as seen, its realization, its functioning and use, involve multiple disciplines.

The Treccani Encyclopedia defines robots as “Versatile mechanical-electrical structures adaptable to different situations, capable of reproducing various elementary activities, in a certain sense represent the significant and tangible materialization of an ancient human dream. Man can transfer to them the execution of repetitive, tiring or dangerous activities, which require rapidity of movement, high positioning accuracy and repeatability of execution ".

The elements that make up a robot are four:

  • mechanical system such as the organs of locomotion (wheels, tracks, legs);

  • actuation system that animates the mechanical parts;

  • sensory system that is the sensors that allow the acquisition of the perceptions of the environment;

  • government system that commands the execution of actions.

The word “robot” has recently celebrated its first century of life, having started out in 1920 near Prague. The term comes from the word "robota" with the meaning of "hard work" or "forced labor".

This term was introduced by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots or "Rossum's universal robots") where an imaginary humanoid (photo) appeared, identified as a robot to recall the Czech word job.

The year 1920 is also the year in which Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer, was born, who recalls the English derivative term “robotics” or “robotics” in his science fiction stories in 1940.

Asimov himself is also the inventor of Three Laws of Robotics, stated in a series of science fiction stories from 1942:

  1. A robot cannot harm human beings, nor can it allow humans to be harmed by failing to intervene;

  2. A robot must obey the orders given by human beings, unless such orders conflict with the First Law;

  3. A robot must safeguard its existence, as long as this does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

(Isaac Asimov, Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition)

The three laws of robotics are designed by Asimov to govern his "positronic robot" that is imaginary creatures with humanoid shapes that do not rebel against their creator but are instead "happy to be able to serve".

In 1956 George Devol and Joseph Engelberger founded the world's first robot manufacturer, Unimation Inc. (Universal + Automation).

In 1962 the first industrial manipulator (mechanical arm) known as Unite (photo). The robot was considered a "programmable transfer machine", since its main purpose was to transfer objects from one point to another.

Unite is the first robot designed to perform repetitive and / or dangerous operations on a General Motors production line in New Jersey.

Between 1975 and 1978 the mechanical engineer from the University of Standford, Victor Scheinman, was responsible for the realization of PUMA (Programmable Universal Manipulation Arm). In a short time, PUMA became the most popular industrial robot in factories and research laboratories, able to perform complex actions such as assembling and welding.

In 1986 LEGO (Danish toy manufacturer) and MIT Media Lab (research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) collaborated on product design with the aim of bringing technology education to schools (Educational Robotics1). In 1988 LEGO will release the first robotics kit, naming the production range "MINDSTORM".

On July 4, 1997 he landed on the Red Planet of our Solar System, Mars, as part of the NASA mission called Mars PathfinderRover Sojourner, the first ever robot of the International Space Station, put into orbit.

In 2002 ASIMO, from Honda, is the first robot that can walk and go up / down stairs in a "human" way and in complete autonomy.

In 2009 the robot-child was presented iCub, developed and built by the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa. iCub is a completely open-source platform (both software and hardware) for the study of the so-called embodiment cognition2.

In 2012 it arrives on the market Baxter of the start-up Rethink Robotics. Baxter has an animated face and is meant to work on production lines in close collaboration with humans.

Between 2013 and 2016 Boston Dynamics3, a software company founded nearly 30 years ago near Boston, develops the humanoid robot ATLAS. It is among the most advanced in the world, capable of operating both indoors and outdoors, walking on various terrains, manipulating objects, all with high stability.

To date, the areas of application of robots range from the Surgeon Robot that allows doctors to remotely control some surgical procedures, Shopping Assistance Robots, domestic and social robots used in the home and able to recognize faces and expressions of family members. thanks to the biometric recognition, the robots used in the agricultural sector, the geminoid robots or "twin" robots of a human being, that is, built in such a way as to resemble, both in physical appearance and in movements, to a man, and the most recent Tesla Bot (photo), presented in August 2021 whose highly anticipated prototype will be unveiled on September 30, 2022, a robot about 1,75 m tall, weighing just over 50 kg, capable of moving at about 8 km / h and transporting weights up to 20 kg.

Based on the evolutionary path presented, to date, four generations of robots are conventionally recognized:

  • First Generation: Programmable machines without the possibility of controlling the actual execution methods and without interaction with the external environment. The use of these types of robots is mainly industrial, in fact in those years they were used for loading and unloading of goods or to carry out simple movements of materials;

  • Second Generation: Programmable machines with the possibility of recognizing the external environment and with the possibility of moving from point to point. They have specific software dedicated to specific applications. Therefore, if the robot was intended to perform a certain task, such as loading a machine, it was very difficult to use it for another operation such as welding. In order to do this, the control system had to be changed;

  • Third Generation: Self-programmable machines with the possibility of interacting with the external environment and capable of self-training for the execution of an assigned task;

  • Fourth Generation: They are autonomous robots capable of performing functions and making decisions through machine learning.

We can certainly say that we are in the fourth generation of robots: autonomous robots, and it is in this context that we find the link between the “world” of robots and that of AI. For the purpose of this discussion we can focus on two types of robots: non-autonomous and autonomous.

I non-autonomous robots they are represented by the machines controlled (programmed) a priori by a software and used to carry out a specific task. They are mostly used in industrial production along assembly lines and used to carry out very often repetitive tasks. They can also be managed directly by humans through remote control systems. A classic example is constituted by remotely controllable drones, by bomb-disposal robots engaged in inspecting places at risk and defusing any potentially lethal threats to humans.

I autonomous robots instead it is robots that employ AI. They are characterized by the ability to learn, through experience and interaction. Autonomous robots have the ability to acquire autonomy through sensory capabilities and the exchange of data with the environment in which they operate as well as the ability to analyze the data collected. This is made possible by a series of processors, which run artificial intelligence algorithms and operate by making choices using neural networks.

The sensory system, one of the four constituent elements of the robots as seen above, is widely used in autonomous robots for the acquisition of the most varied information from the outside such as image recognition, based on AI and neural networks and equipped with various cameras.

The introduction of artificial intelligence in robotics takes place especially in the field of industrial robotics with the aim of refining and improving autonomy in automation processes. One speaks in this context of COBOTS namely Collaborative roBOT.

COBOTs are robots with strong autonomy qualities and able to perceive and interpret the environment in which it is located to distinguish a mechanical piece from another, to move safely through the environment (for example to deliver a piece to a human operator without colliding with other human beings), to decide which tasks to perform and how, taking into account the needs of the people with whom it interacts (artificial intelligence capacity), to understand which point to support a machine being assembled and finally to know how to manage unexpected events during the execution of his actions.

From what emerges it is possible to say that autonomous robots require a combination of many areas of AI such as:

  • computerized vision and voice recognition to detect the environment;

  • il Natural Language Processing (NLP), information retrieval and uncertain reasoning for processing instructions and predicting the consequences of potential actions;

  • il Senitment analysis (systems that respond to expressions of human emotions or that mimic emotions) to interact and work with humans.

In conclusion, in the connection between the world of robots and AI we can underline that:

  • AI and robotics have in common the ability to perform actions instead of humans;

  • AI is used in robotics to operate robots, to activate them in order to put them into operation and then to deactivate them;

  • the AI ​​used in robotics represents only a part of an area that we have seen to be multidisciplinary.

The world of Artificial Intelligence is destined to evolve in the near future. Knowing the expansion of the phenomenon is a way to get prepared and dispel the false myths that lead to look at AI with suspicion.

Certainly autonomous robots and COBOTs are endowed with a certain level of autonomy and are not always equipped with security agents able to limit the cyber risks that could arise and lead to real cyber attacks. At the same time, it is essential to understand how to prepare for the risks that could arise in order to ensure an adequate level of safety.

In the combination of Robot and AI it must be said that the fear that robots can replace humans in all activities is completely irrational since, although there are already computers that in many areas far exceed the computational speed of the human brain, these are still far from a level of intelligence equal to that of the human being such as to be able to replace us.

In this regard, the best conclusion for the article is the following quote from Albert Einstein:

“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid.

Humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant.

The combination of the two constitutes an incalculable force. "

1 Educational robotics (educational robotics): the student, protagonist in the learning process, designs, builds and programs robots; in this way a construction of knowledge related to Robotics takes place

2Embodiment Cognition defined the "simulation theory of linguistic understanding" according to which we understand the expressions of natural language thanks to the reactivation of brain areas mainly dedicated to perception, movements and emotions.

3 Its first order, of military origin, is related to the creation of interactive 3D programs for the computer simulation of complex training, in particular relating to the launch operations of aircraft from the ground and from aircraft carriers.


Cummings, ML (2014), “Man vs. Machine or Man + Machine? " IEEE Intelligent Systems, 29 (5),

pp. 62–69.





Images: web / YouTube / Tesla / US Air Force / still from Woody Allen's 1973 film "The Sleepyhead"