Chatting with Wilma, the first robot in a scientific library in Germany, sipping an espresso and talking about the general ambiance in libraries in Germany. Good morning, Wilma, how about an espresso? No thanks, I’d rather have some electricity to recharge. I can’t handle any liquids. Then I do not need to ask for sugar, salt or pepper? Yes, that’s right. You are the first robot in a scientific library in Germany. Is that right? At least, I am not aware of any others. Are there any other libraries, where robots are being used? Yes, in the Noosaville Library in Australia, in the Public Library of New York as well as NAO in the Zentralbibliothek in Cologne. Are you an employee or a visitor at the library? I’m neither an employee nor a visitor. I’m more or less an assistant and help the library team wherever I can. I am a robot that my programmers, mostly Telematics students, can use to try things out on, do research and learn more. Users will most likely benefit from the results. What are you doing as active learning and research robot? For instance, I give support by going on small tours of the library with groups. I can also make jokes so everyone is more relaxed, play fun games with youngsters or pose for a selfie. From the coming winter term I’m supposed to assist during early morning and evening hours. When there are fewer librarians at work, so that students can study here around the clock. What kind of robot are you? I am a humanoid robot controlled by a computer. I don’t have an aptitude for learning nor do I have artificial intelligence. I have to be taught everything in advance, like the answers to this interview. What does humanoid mean to you? It means that I look like a human and can do things similar to what humans do. The experts talk about an uncanny valley. It was Masahiro Mori who first dubbed this technical term in 1970. His theory describes how machines are more widely accepted when they are similar to humans, however, as soon as there is too much similarity with people, the reaction is more reserved. Can you help people, for example, when they are searching for information? Yes, I can do that, I’m connected with the internet. You can also read and calculate? I can also read aloud, but I can’t calculate anything yet. So, what else can a person learn from you? Well, for one thing, that you need to be patient and wait until I’ve learned certain things or until someone programs me for it. What else can a person learn from you besides patience? They can learn that just about everything and anything can be further developed and perfected. For instance, I need a number of instructions for many things before I can function right. So, just as libraries are in a constant process of further development, so am I. Tweaking and optimizing means we’re looking into the future. There are media in libraries. Do you also define yourself as a medium? A medium of the supernatural kind. A kind of oracle – certainly not. But of course, I’m other-determined, that means dependent on the mind of the programmer or the one who controls me. Unique however is R2D2. Have you met him before? Yes, as a digital movie stream. R2D2 is just a fictional robot. At the computer fair Cebit I met several other robots, both humanoid and artificial intelligence robots. The computer is among other things the typewriter of today. Are you a humanoid machine or a computer? My human traits are not yet that distinct. For example, I can’t walk very fast and I’m really quite slow. I can grasp things with my hands, but I cannot grasp concepts and understand them. I might pass as a technical homunculus, but in reality, it’s all just packaging. I am a computer with technical extremities. That’s probably best description. Robots are already being implemented in medical and health care. With the ability to grasp things, or push something up or away with your technical extremities, why not sort books and other media? Well, we would need to analyze each location accurately or know the exact position of books next to each other in order to find the empty spot for the book that needs to be returned. The movement also calls for fine motor skills. So all in all, a very involved process and not a run of the mill cycle. My generation of robots would be overextended with something like this and would have to be programmed for it. The costs and the amount of time and effort invested and the results achieved would be out of proportion. Who wants me if I devour the whole budget in the investment. Will the use of future generations of robots change the profession of librarians? Every profession should constantly be in a process of change and not just because robots have been installed. Alongside traditional responsibilities at work, many more are already in demand today. In addition, you need social skills, educational competence and business finesse. Or hardware and software knowledge comparable to that of IT specialists. Will the use of robots have an effect on human resources development in libraries? Libraries will not be able to avoid the topic of robotics. It’s just the same as having to know something about hardware and software nowadays. Even today, robotics already
offers a range of possibilities for implementing robots in libraries and elsewhere. Librarians will need to find out how they want to program robots and what they want me to do. Robots are always capable of realizing special tasks. However, they are not in any way capable of replacing humans as far as motor skills, thinking skills or speaking skills are concerned. We are there to support, not to replace them. Are younger or older people more likely to talk to you? Kids have fewer inhibitions than older users and are more likely to talk to me. Predominantly younger people use this library, especially students. Which questions are you most asked by the students? Unfortunately, I can not say that yet because my service will start at the end of September. What would you answer if I asked you for the definition of Work 4.0? My answer would be: Digitalization is moving forward at a fast pace and is not only changing the media sector. We have to deal with more and more new technologies and automation as well a more flexibility in working hours and opening hours. Increasingly, it’s our job to introduce it to the users in a subtle way. Therefore, Work 4.0 is easy to understand, as far as digitalization exists nowadays, but hard to define. Wilma, thank you for this encounter My librarian on duty answered for me.