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Home » Ken Goldberg: Can Robots Inspire Us To Be Better Humans? at TEDxBerkeley (Transcript)

Ken Goldberg: Can Robots Inspire Us To Be Better Humans? at TEDxBerkeley (Transcript)

Ken Goldberg – TRANSCRIPT

Thank you. It’s been an amazing line-up of speakers today.

We’ve been talking backstage and I just want to say we’ve all agreed that you have been a terrific audience. So I think you all deserve a round of applause for being so great. I know this is going to sound strange, but I think robots can inspire us to be better humans.

See, I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the home of Bethlehem Steel. My father was an engineer, and when I was growing up, he would teach me how things worked. We would build projects together, like model rockets and slot cars. Here’s the go-kart that we built together. That’s me behind the wheel, with my sister and my best friend at the time.

And one day, he came home, when I was about 10 years old, and at the dinner table, he announced that for our next project, we were going to build a robot. A robot. Now, I was thrilled about this, because at school, there was a bully named Kevin, and he was picking on me, because I was the only Jewish kid in class. So I couldn’t wait to get started to work on this, so I could introduce Kevin to my robot.

(Robot noises) But that wasn’t the kind of robot my dad had in mind. See, he owned a chromium-plating company, and they had to move heavy steel parts between tanks of chemicals. And so he needed an industrial robot like this, that could basically do the heavy lifting. But my dad didn’t get the kind of robot he wanted, either. He and I worked on it for several years, but it was the 1970s, and the technology that was available to amateurs just wasn’t there yet.

So Dad continued to do this kind of work by hand. And a few years later, he was diagnosed with cancer. You see, what the robot we were trying to build was telling him was not about doing the heavy lifting. It was a warning about his exposure to the toxic chemicals. He didn’t recognize that at the time, and he contracted leukemia. And he died at the age of 45. I was devastated by this. And I never forgot the robot that he and I tried to build.

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