"A Robot in Every Home"


By Bill Gates B. ゲイツ
English 日本語 日本語
Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when--or even if--this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world. 新産業が生まれつつあるところを想像してほしい。画期的新技術に基づく産業だ。一握りの大企業が専門的な業務用装置を販売する一方,急速に数を増やしつつあるベンチャー企業がマニア向けに革新的だがあまり役に立たない機器や風変わりな“すき間商品”を作っている。ただし共通の規格やプラットフォームはほとんどなく,極めてバラバラな産業でもある。製品設計は複雑で,進捗が遅く,実用的な用途は比較的少ない。実のところ,前途有望とみて皆が躍起になってはいるものの,この産業がいつ本格的に離陸するのか,そもそも離陸可能なのか,はっきりとしたことは誰にもわからない。しかし,いったん臨界点を超えれば,世界を変える力が十分にある……。
Of course, the paragraph above could be a description of the computer industry during the mid-1970s, around the time that Paul Allen and I launched Microsoft. Back then, big, expensive mainframe computers ran the back-office operations for major companies, governmental departments and other institutions. Researchers at leading universities and industrial laboratories were creating the basic building blocks that would make the information age possible. Intel had just introduced the 8080 microprocessor, and Atari was selling the popular electronic game Pong. At homegrown computer clubs, enthusiasts struggled to figure out exactly what this new technology was good for. もちろん,以上は1970年代半ばにアレン(Paul Allen)と私がマイクロソフトを創業したころのコンピューター産業の描写にもなる。当時は高価で大きなメインフレームコンピューターが大企業や官庁などで事務処理を行っていた。主な大学や企業研究所の学者たちは,情報時代を可能にする基本技術を生み出しつつあった。インテルは「8080マイクロプロセッサー」を発表したばかりで,アタリは人気のビデオ卓球ゲーム「ポン」を売っていた。あちこちのコンピュータークラブでは,熱心なマニアたちがこの新技術を具体的に何に使うか知恵を絞っていた。
But what I really have in mind is something much more contemporary: the emergence of the robotics industry, which is developing in much the same way that the computer business did 30 years ago. Think of the manufacturing robots currently used on automobile assembly lines as the equivalent of yesterday's mainframes. The industry's niche products include robotic arms that perform surgery, surveillance robots deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan that dispose of roadside bombs, and domestic robots that vacuum the floor. Electronics companies have made robotic toys that can imitate people or dogs or dinosaurs, and hobbyists are anxious to get their hands on the latest version of the Lego robotics system. だが,私が念頭に置いているのはその話ではなく,現在の状況──ロボット産業の出現だ。
Meanwhile some of the world's best minds are trying to solve the toughest problems of robotics, such as visual recognition, navigation and machine learning. And they are succeeding. At the 2004 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, a competition to produce the first robotic vehicle capable of navigating autonomously over a rugged 142-mile course through the Mojave Desert, the top competitor managed to travel just 7.4 miles before breaking down. In 2005, though, five vehicles covered the complete distance, and the race's winner did it at an average speed of 19.1 miles an hour. (In another intriguing parallel between the robotics and computer industries, DARPA also funded the work that led to the creation of Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet.) 一方,世界一流の頭脳が視覚認識や自律走行,学習など,ロボット工学(ロボティクス)分野で最も手強い問題の解決に取り組んでいる。そして成功を収めつつある。
What is more, the challenges facing the robotics industry are similar to those we tackled in computing three decades ago. Robotics companies have no standard operating software that could allow popular application programs to run in a variety of devices. The standardization of robotic processors and other hardware is limited, and very little of the programming code used in one machine can be applied to another. Whenever somebody wants to build a new robot, they usually have to start from square one. さらに,ロボット産業が直面している課題は,30年前に私たちがコンピューターの世界で取り組んだ問題と似ている。ロボット産業は標準的なオペレーティングシステム(OS,基本ソフト)を欠いており,有用なアプリケーションプログラムがあっても,多様なロボットの上で実行することはできない。また,ロボット用プロセッサーなどのハードウエアも標準化が進んでおらず,あるマシンで使われているプログラミングコードのごく一部しか別のマシンには利用できない。新しいロボットを作ろうとしたら,いちから始めなければならないのが常だ。
Despite these difficulties, when I talk to people involved in robotics--from university researchers to entrepreneurs, hobbyists and high school students--the level of excitement and expectation reminds me so much of that time when Paul Allen and I looked at the convergence of new technologies and dreamed of the day when a computer would be on every desk and in every home. And as I look at the trends that are now starting to converge, I can envision a future in which robotic devices will become a nearly ubiquitous part of our day-to-day lives. I believe that technologies such as distributed computing, voice and visual recognition, and wireless broadband connectivity will open the door to a new generation of autonomous devices that enable computers to perform tasks in the physical world on our behalf. We may be on the verge of a new era, when the PC will get up off the desktop and allow us to see, hear, touch and manipulate objects in places where we are not physically present. こうした困難にもかかわらず,ロボット工学にかかわる人たち(大学の研究者から起業家,マニア,高校生まで)と話すと,その高揚感と期待の高さに気づく。アレンと私が数々の新技術の集中を目の当たりにして,コンピューターが各家庭すべての机の上に載る日を夢見たあの時期を思い起こさせる。そしていま同様にロボット分野に集中し始めた技術の流れを見ると,私はロボット機器が日常生活のほぼあらゆる場面に入り込む未来を思い描くことができる。