1  After decades of promises and disappointments, it appears that the long-awaited "robot revolution" may at last be under way. Around the globe, quasi-autonomous devices have become increasingly common on factory floors, hospital corridors and farm fields. Dozens more are in development.

2  Physicians* can use robotics to aid in ultraprecise bone and brain surgery. Affluent parents can pick up a Sony cyberpooch to amuse the kids. The Pentagon is researching a dozen ways to put robots in the battlefield, from self-driving vehicles to swarms* of tiny surveillance robots.

3  Last month, researchers at Brandeis University announced a major milestone*: a computerized system that automatically creates, evolves, improves and builds a variety of mobile creatures without any significant human intervention.

4  The rise in robot technology has been fueled* by several factors, including spectacular advances in computer power, miniaturization of components, the availability of inexpensive sonar, infrared or laser sensors, improvements in speech-recognition and voice-generation technology.

5 In the near future, it is not unrealistic to imagine multiple robotic devices in every business, home and office. Exponential growth in computing power may soon put robotic systems within reach of the kind of brainpower* that could ultimately put humanity out of business. Over the next several decades, machine competence will rival and ultimately surpass any particular human skill.

6  Whether sheer computer power can translate into genuinely human capability, however, is a hotly debated matter. A true android of the R2D2 variety featured* in the Star War films may be a very long way off. 

7  By the age of 2, any human can see the difference between a hole in the floor and a black spot painted on the floor. Thanks to miniaturized infrared, laser-light and ultrasound sensors used as range finders for consumer cameras, today's robots can discern the distance to the object accurately. But so far*, they have no dependable way to tell a hole from a spot.

8  Another impediment* to rapid progress is that until the late 1990s, the price of components has been too high. That is changing. Small muscle-like motors and miniaturized joints are becoming less expensive all the time, and the spread* of video cameras, laser devices and ultrasound range-finder technologies has driven down the cost of items once* thought exotic.

9  Even if robots do not become as ubiquitous as the PC, less grandiose but extremely useful goals are being achieved.

10 Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has devised self-directing tractors that harvest around the clock* in California, combining location information from global positioning sensors with video image processing that identifies rows of uncut crops.

11In the long run, many planners are assuming that demand for personal-care robots is bound* to explode as the population ages and the cost of nursing home* care continues to increase. 

Adapted from an article by Curt Suplee

in the 8th September 2000 issue of The International Herald Tribune

to get under way : se mettre en marche - physician : médecin - swarm : nuée - milestone : étape - to fuel : susciter - brainpower : ressources mentales - featured in : figurant dans - so far : jusqu'ici - impediment : obstacle - spread : diffusion - once : autrefois - around the clock : 24 h sur 24 - to be bound to : être destiné à, aller certainement - nursing home : maison de retraite



1 - Rédiger en français un compte rendu du texte comportant entre 200 et 250 mots. On s'efforcera de regrouper les éléments d'information de même nature pris dans différents paragraphes. (10 points) 

2 - Traduire en français les expressions suivantes (en appliquant le principe de la remontée de gauche à droite) :

a/ speech-recognition and voice-generation technology (1 point)

b/ miniaturized infra-red, laser-light and ultrasound sensors (1 point)

3 - Answer the following questions, using elements from the text.

a/ In what places have quasi-autonomous robotic devices become common? (1 point)

b/ To what places may robotic devices spread in the near future? (1 point)   

c/ Thanks to what technological advances can today's robots discern the distance to an object accurately? (1 point)

d/ Which particular economic change has, in the last decade, increased the pace of progress in robotic technology? (1 point)

4 - Discussion. Answer the following question, using your own words. (4 points)

Do you share the idea that advances in robot technology will result in robots finally "putting humanity out of business"?

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