Intelligent machines

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Unit 1 - | Corpus Sujets - 1 Sujet   Intelligent machines

Séries générales • LV2



Idée de progrès


Polynésie française • Juin 2013

Séries générales • LV2

Text 1

A robot with a reassuring touch

Boston – If you grab the hand of a two-armed robot named Baxter, it will turn its head and a pair of cartoon eyes – displayed on a tablet-size computer-screen “face” – will peer at you with interest.

The sensation that Baxter conveys is not creepy, but benign, perhaps even disarmingly friendly. And that is intentional.

Baxter, the first product of Rethink Robotics, an ambitious start-up company in a revived manufacturing district here, is a significant bet that robots in the future will work directly with humans in the workplace.

That is a marked shift from today’s machines, which are kept safely isolated from humans, either inside glass-cages or behind laser-controlled “light curtains”, because they move with Terminator-like speed and accuracy and could flatten any human they encountered. By contrast, Baxter, which comes encased in plastic and has a nine-foot “wingspan”, is relatively slow and imprecise in the way it moves. And it has an elaborate array of safety mechanisms and sensors to protect the human workers it assists.

Here in a brick factory that was once one of the first electrified manufacturing sites in New England, Rodney A. Brooks, the legend­ary roboticist who is Rethink’s founder, proves its safety by placing his head in the path of Baxter’s arm while it moves objects on an assembly line. […]

The 22,000 robot that Rethink will begin selling in October is the clearest evidence yet that robotics is more than a laboratory curiosity or a tool only for large companies with vast amounts of capital. The company is betting it can broaden the market for robots by selling an inexpensive machine that can collaborate with human workers, the way the computer industry took off in the 1980s when the prices of PCs fell sharply and people without programming experience could start using them right out of the box.

John Markoff, in The New York Times, September 18, 2012.

Text 2

Alter our DNA or robots will take over, warns Hawking

Stephen Hawking, the acclaimed scientist and writer, reignited the debate over genetic engineering yesterday by recommending that humans change their DNA through genetic modification to keep ahead of advances in computer technology and stop intelligent machines from « taking over the world ».

He made the remarks in an interview with the German magazine Focus. Because technology is advancing so quickly, Hawking said, “computers double their performance every month”. Humans, in contrast, are developing much more slowly, and so must change their DNA make-up or be left behind. “The danger is real,” he said, “that this [computer] intelligence will develop and take over the world.” […]

He also advocated cyber-technology – direct links between human brains and computers. “We must develop as quickly as possible technologies that make possible a direct connection between brain and computer, so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it.”

Nick Paton Walsh, in The Observer, Sunday 2 September 2001.


1 Read the two texts and find the following information.

1. Text 1

a) Type

b) Author

c) Source

d) Is it informative or fictional

e) Subject.

2. Text 2

a) Type

b) Author

c) Source

d) Is it informative or fictional

e) Subject.

2 Who or what do the following names refer to

1. Baxter

2. Rethink

3. Rodney Brooks

4. Stephen Hawking

5. John Markoff

6. Nick Walsh.

Text 1

1 Choose six adjectives characterizing Baxter. Justify by quoting from the text.

Ambitious – benign – creepy – dangerous - fast – friendly-looking – imprecise – inexpensive – safe – slow.

2 Are the statements right (R) or wrong (R) Justify with a quote from - or a reference to - the text:

1. Rethink Robotics is an American company. 1fd6b5ec30c8699961a0d5af59ec2e3e.pngea0138617dcf3bccb246534b54f3dc78.png

2. Rethink Robotics began selling the Baxter robots
in the 1980s. bdfaf61459b3281513082eb6cbbfdb5b.pnga09adadf71cf3a44c81ea8f397f55863.png

3. The company has created a robot that is dangerous
for humans. 9c333a4b8d0ed21dcc8cc949ffd7f558.png5321cb1429c5b6683a7c8c9d5490546f.png

4. Robots today do not work in direct contact with humans. 037b217d9fbedfc4b12766513dc16547.pngb990ce29e64a63251970f691329ceaa6.png

5. The price of a Baxter robot will remain high. afa204f5d68d94f4277146613ea9f72d.pngbbdb8f0c63c532ed961ee7ca66f5d616.png

3 In a few words, compare Terminator-like robots and Baxter.

Text 2

1 How does Hawking feel about “intelligent machines”

2 What solutions does he suggest What would be the objective of each solution

Both texts

Seuls les candidats de la série L traiteront la question suivante.

Compare and contrast how the two texts present and analyse the issue of machine intelligence. (80 to 100 words).


> Les candidats de la série L traiteront les deux sujets. Les candidats des séries S et ES choisiront un sujet.

1 How do you feel about the rise of intelligent machines Do you think they are dangerous Discuss and illustrate your point using precise examples.

2 Imagine living with a robot in your home. Write about a typical day in the company of your robot.

Texte 1


John Markoff (né en 1949, américain) est journaliste. Diplômé en sociologie, il est responsable des sujets scientifiques au New York Times. Il a par ailleurs écrit plusieurs ouvrages sur les technologies modernes. En 2013 il a reçu le prestigieux prix Pulitzer.

Pour en savoir plus :

Le thème

L’article décrit Baxter, un nouveau robot conçu sur de stricts critères de sécurité et ayant une apparence rassurante, à la différence des robots traditionnels. Son constructeur a pour objectif de produire des machines bon marché capables d’assister utilement les humains dans leur travail.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

To grab, l. 1 (agripper)  to peer, l. 3 (scruter, observer)  creepy, l. 4 (qui donne la chair de poule)  benign, l. 4 (affable, inoffensif)  a bet, l. 8 (un pari)  a shift, l. 10 (un changement)  to flatten, l. 13 (aplatir)  the wingspan, l. 15 (l’envergure)  an array, l. 16 (une gamme)  to broaden, l. 26 (élargir).

Texte 2


Nick Paton Walsh (né en 1977, britannique) est journaliste. Correspondant international de CNN, il travaille pour le quotidien britannique The Observer. Il a reçu plusieurs récompenses pour ses articles et reportages.

Le thème

Le célèbre scientifique Stephen Hawking met en garde l’humanité contre le danger d’ordinateurs sans cesse plus intelligents, qui pourraient finir par dominer le monde. Pour pallier ce risque, il conseille de modifier l’ADN des humains et de relier cerveaux humains et artificiels afin que les ordinateurs collaborent avec notre intelligence au lieu de s’y opposer.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

To reignite, l. 1 (rallumer)  genetic engineering, l. 2 (manipulations génétiques)  to keep ahead, l. 4 (garder une longueur d’avance)  advances, l. 4 (avancées, progrès)  the make-up, l. 10 (la constitution).

Les points de convergence

Les deux textes évoquent les craintes engendrées par la fabrication de machines dites intelligentes. Le premier présente le robot Baxter, conçu selon des critères privilégiant la sécurité et le sentiment de sécurité chez leurs utilisateurs  le second évoque la crainte ancienne que ces créatures cybernétiques viennent un jour à nous dominer et nous détruire.

Le sujet d’expression 1

Pistes de recherche

L’exemple de « machine intelligente » que vous connaissez le mieux est sans doute l’ordinateur, mais vous pouvez prendre d’autres exemples. Faut-il craindre que ces outils que nous créons pour nous servir, sorte de « machines esclaves », ne deviennent un jour nos « maîtres » 

Vous pouvez ensuite faire remarquer que ces craintes ne sont pas nouvelles, quel que fût dans le passé le niveau technologique.

D’où viennent nos craintes  Du fait que ces machines sont façonnées à notre image puisqu’elles ont pour fonction de reproduire ou encore prolonger nos actions humaines  Vous noterez que nous les connaissons autant par nos œuvres de fiction que par la vie réelle. Pensez à l’ordinateur Hal, dans 2001, a Space Odyssey qui converse aimablement et servilement avec les membres de l’équipage du vaisseau spatial, puis qui décide de les tuer quand ils réalisent qu’il a fait une erreur. Autre exemple : Terminator, qui est d’autant plus effrayant qu’il a un aspect humanoïde. A contrario, R2D2 et 3PO de Stars War ont l’air bien sympathiques.

Vous pouvez conclure que la vision que l’on a de ces machines est sans doute liée à celle que l’on a de l’être humain.

Vocabulaire utile

A tool (un outil)  the epitome (l’incarnation, l’archétype)  amazing (­étonnant, stupéfiant)  data (des données)  to design (concevoir)  the sorcerer’s apprentice (l’apprenti sorcier)  a safeguard (un garde-fou)  evil (mauvais)  a purpose (un but, un objectif).

Le sujet d’expression 2

Pistes de recherche

Vous avez le choix : soit situer le récit dans votre vie présente au domicile familial, soit le situer dans votre vie future d’adulte. Avec, par exemple, un robot-majordome, qui organise et dirige le quotidien de la maison, à travers notamment tous les appareils ménagers. Une occasion de montrer que vous connaissez leurs noms. Décrivez votre emploi du temps quotidien, et imaginez comment ce robot, supposé très intelligent, peut interagir avec vous à l’instar d’un être humain qui vous connaîtrait parfaitement.

Vocabulaire utile

A butler (un majordome)  household appliances (appareils ménagers)  a chore (une corvée)  embedded (incorporé)  to hoover (passer l’aspirateur)  a chip (une puce, un micro-processeur)  to diagnose (diagnostiquer)  a disease (une maladie).



1 1. a) Newspaper article. b). John Markoff. c)The New York Times. d) Informative. e) Building a new type of safe and reassuring robot which will collaborate with humans.

2. a) Newspaper article. b) Nick Paton Walsh. c)The Observer. d) Informative. e) Altering our DNA to prevent robots from taking over.

2 1. a new robot. 2. a start-up company which produces robots. 3. Rethink’s founder. 4. a famous scientist and writer. 5. a New York Times journalist. 6. a journalist for The Observer.

Text 1

1 Benign (“the sensation that Baxter conveys is not creepy, but benign”, l. 4)  friendly-looking (“disarmingly friendly”, l. 5)  imprecise (“relatively slow and imprecise in the way it moves”, l. 15-16)  inexpensive (“The company is betting it can broaden the market for robots by selling an inexpensive machine”, l. 26-27)  safe (“Rodney A. Brooks […] proves its safety by placing his head in the path of Baxter’s arm”, l. 19-21)  slow (“relatively slow and imprecise in the way it moves” l. 15).

2 1. Right: “in a brick factory that was once one of the first electrified manufacturing sites in New England” (l. 18-19).

Notez bien :

New England est une région composée de six États située à l’extrême nord-est des États-Unis.

2. Wrong: “They will begin selling in October” (l. 23).

3. Wrong: “it has an elaborate array of safety mechanisms and sensors to protect the human workers” (l. 16-17) “Rodney A. Brooks […] proves its safety by placing his head in the path of Baxter’s arm” (l. 19-21).

4. Right: “robots in the future will work directly with humans” (l. 8) “today’s machines […] are kept safely isolated from humans” (l. 10-11).

5. Wrong: “The company is betting it can broaden the market for robots by selling an inexpensive machine […] the way the computer industry took off […] when the prices of PCs fell sharply” (l. 26-29).

3 Terminator-like robots are frightening (“creepy”, l. 4) because they can be destructive and aggressive and move at incredible speed, which can be really dangerous, while Baxter is meant to look reassuring (“benign”, “disarmingly friendly”, l. 4-5) and to be safe.

Text 2

1 He is afraid of their possibilities, as he thinks they will one day “take over the world” (l. 5).

2 He first suggests that humans should alter their own DNA in order to evolve faster than intelligent machines and thus be protected. He then suggests that the human brain and the artificial brain should be directly connected, so that computers will collaborate with, and not endanger, humans.

Both texts

Both texts consider that machine intelligence is aimed at helping humans, but the optimistic tone of the first article contrasts with the pessimistic tone of the second. The design of Baxter is meant to be reassuring and safe, unlike traditional scary-looking robots that convey old fears that have made the success of science-fiction Baxter should become one of those tools that make our life easier and more comfortable. On the contrary, Hawkins revives the fears of a machine-dominated world that we have often had when new technologies emerge, and the solutions he suggests (DNA alteration, direct computer-brain connexion) are far from reassuring!


1 Guidelines

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001, a Space Odyssey, deals with the evolution of intelligence and the use of tools by jumping from early ages to futuristic ages when an intelligent computer named Hal can pilot a spaceship, talk to humans, think and even react emotionally, eventually disobeying orders and killing the crew of the spaceship one by one when they have found out it (he ) has made a mistake.

The tool that was meant to be a slave becomes the master.

Hal is the epitome of the intelligent machine as man’s creation, able to do amazing things as long as it does what it is told to do and is kept under strict control.

Today we have Hal-like machines and computers which can react to vocal commands, which recognize our faces or fingerprints, help surgeons carry out operations, analyse data much faster than we could, etc.

But they seem to be intelligent only because they are designed to reproduce and extend the actions of our brain. The only thing is that we make them calculate much faster than we can, and this is what can worry us. They can be dangerous if like sorcerer’s apprentices we don’t create safeguards and let them get out of our control, if we let them be used by men with evil purposes.

We like to be scared, and most probably, the artists’ visions of these machines have something to do with our fears: artists and writers seem to have more often imagined creepy Terminator-like robots than friendly C3PO or R2D2 creatures. This must be what R. Brooks had in mind when he designed “dis­armingly friendly” Baxter.

Maybe the way we consider these machines depends on the way we consider man: good or evil…

2 Guidelines

Butler is my everyday indispensable companion. I call it “Butler” because I want to name it after its job rather than with a human name. It’s just a tool after all, but a wonderful tool. In fact it manages a whole family of specific tools embedded in all the appliances that do the household chores.

It knows when it’s time for me to get up and comes to my room to tell me to wake up. When I arrive in the kitchen, breakfast is ready and warm. During my shower, it tells me the day’s agenda and picks the right clothes out of the wardrobe, depending on what I have planned to do. When I’m away at work it hoovers the house or waters the garden.

But the moment I like best with Butler is in the evening, when I get back from work: I can play games with it and it accepts to be programmed so that it will let me win even after a difficult game. As it knows my cultural tastes it helps me to choose what books to read, what films to watch. It is connected to a chip which has been inserted under my skin, so my health has no secret for Butler, and it will diagnose any disease before I am even aware of feeling ill.

My only problem is that as it is better than me and other humans at doing things, I tend to have a lonely life, with few people around. I’ll have to talk it over with Butler…