What Robotics vs. Artificial Intelligence Means for Developers

This is a guest post by Josephine Perry.

Despite technically referring to two separate fields and ideas, many people often use the terms “robotics” and “artificial intelligence” interchangeably. That’s understandable considering that people who work in robotics often implement artificial intelligence, and vice versa.

However, the fields are not exactly the same. While there is often some overlap between them, by understanding their key differences, you’ll be better-equipped to comprehend the latest developments in both industries.

Robotics
Many people confuse artificial intelligence and robotics because science-fiction TV shows and movies often depict robots as being equipped with AI.

In real life, a robot doesn’t need to be able to “think” to still qualify as a robot. Essentially, a robot is simply a machine that is able to perform tasks autonomously, or nearly autonomously. They’re also programmable. People who create them develop or use programs to determine their functions.

Granted, some could (and do) argue that because a robot must at least be able to operate semi-autonomously, it technically is “thinking” to a degree when it’s in operation. That type of thinking isn’t always very sophisticated, though.

A machine that doesn’t solve problems or acquire new knowledge could still qualify as a robot if it’s able to complete a task it’s been programmed for. In other words, while robots often do possess a form of artificial intelligence, they don’t have to.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science. One of the key differences between artificial intelligence and robotics is simple: an AI doesn’t need to necessarily interact with the physical world.

Artificial intelligence algorithms solve the kinds of problems that usually require some degree of human insight or reflection. Thus, an AI could be used for customer service purposes, as is the case with most forms of chatbot technology utilized by brands.

That doesn’t mean that same AI would qualify as a robot. If it’s just a computer program playing the game in a virtual environment, it doesn’t have the essential physical-world application that robots must have.

Yes, an AI could be part of a robot; this is becoming much more common as both technologies continue to develop and improve. However, it’s only one part of a much larger system. A robot isn’t a robot without sensors, actuators, and other components that work together to ensure the machine performs tasks as intended.

Programming Options
To further understand how robotics and artificial intelligence differ, it helps to consider an example of a robot that would use both AI and non-AI programming.

Imagine a robot that could pick up objects and identify them. The programming that allows the machine to pick up an object wouldn’t require an artificial intelligence algorithm to do so. To identify the object, though, the robot would have to “see” it with a camera, then use machine learning principles to determine what it is; this does require an AI program.

That’s why more specialists in both fields are beginning to work together. Robotics gives AI the chance to interact more directly with the real world, while AI expands on the existing capabilities of robots. Together, they may soon make those famous sci-fi movie robots a reality.

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