November 16, 2013 12:19 pm

What makes something a Robot? Find out this Sunday with StarTalk Live: I, Robot (Part 1)

Image of Robonaut 2 on the ISS discussed in StarTalk Live: I, Robot

Close-up of Robonaut 2 in the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory. NASA astronaut Kevin Ford is visible in the reflections of R2’s helmet visor. Credit: NASA

What do you think a robot is?

Does it have to be autonomous?

Does it have to be humanoid in form?

It’s not an easy question.

In this Sunday’s podcast, StarTalk Live: I, Robot (Part 1), host Neil deGrasse Tyson and guest Stephen Gorevan can’t agree on whether Voyager 1 was a robot or not. And Gorevan has the right to his opinion: he is the Chairman and Co-founder of Honeybee Robotics, which makes robots and robotic equipment used on NASA’s Mars Rovers.

It’s not the only point of contention in the episode: there’s also a discussion of the difference between having a human archeologist on Mars as opposed to a robot. Can collecting and grinding rock samples for analysis in the on-planet Mars Science Laboratory (better known as the Curiosity Mars Rover) lead us to miss fossilized evidence a human archeologist might have seen?

Of course, this StarTalk Live was part of the 6th Annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival at the Bell House in Brooklyn, so these disagreements provided plenty of targets of opportunity for co-host Eugene Mirman’s guest comedians, Jason Sudeikis and W. Kamau Bell.

One of the coolest parts of the evening, and the episode, is when Neil plays clips from the “Golden Record” that was attached to Voyager 1. The record (which along with a map leading to Earth had instructions printed on it so Aliens could make a player to listen to it!) included a selection of sounds from the human experience, including Beethoven and Chuck Berry and samples of greetings in an assortment of Earth languages.

Which of course led to a discussion (and more than a few jokes) about the wisdom of giving Aliens our address… and making it easy to subjugate us in our native tongue once they get here.

Listen to StarTalk Live: I, Robot (Part 1) this Sunday, November 17th at 7:00 PM ET on our website, iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons