As a robotics programmer I’m frequently asked; just what does psychology have to do with your line of work? I mean, why take a bachelors degree in something so unrelated to your profession.
The question is not a straightforward one to answer. My position is that an inquiry for knowledge comes from within. The observation of one’s immediate environment the ideal place to start. This year my most present being was Robert, a large white painted industrial robot.
Once coded the destiny of this trained monkey will be to toil endlessly in a factory. The program consist of lifting rock and mineral laden buckets; from a feeder conveyor, weighing them, and emphatically tossing the contents into one of several nearby crushing machines.
Destined to be a blue collar member of society, I began to teach him the necessary commands. Machine Code Commence: Pick bucket stop, If BucketWeight equals X then do Y stop. Else if … and ad nauseam stop.
Long days and late night coffees inherently led to errors in machine coding. Erroneous commands would bring the program screeching to a halt. Debugging the code frequently revealed a contradictory command. A move instruction comparable to the following; Go RightLeft. An obvious impossibility.
I was elated and far from frustrated. I’ve got it! This is similar to when confused people appear rooted to the spot. Seemingly incapable of moving from their position. Go left. Go right. The program that circles in one’s head has stumbled across an un-executable command.
Through an examining of human behaviour I began to see a resemblance with robots. Like machines, humans also appear to follow a pre-programmed script; Human code commence: If 7am wake up stop, if day equals WorkDay then go to place of employment stop… The idea captivated me. Psychologist hypothesize that we are beings of habit, but is this really just another way of saying we follow a structured program? One that we participated in creating and actively go about modifying with each new experience?
Human beings are obviously a lot more complicated than simple factory robots and the idea that we are unconscious beings blindly actioning a coded script is difficult to process at first. However, as I entertain this idea my mind flies along tangents of endless possibilities. And still the question remains; are humans just more complexly programmed machines?