The Iris 1 Robot

David Leech Anderson: Author


The first "Iris" robot was built for use in the classroom, to help students reflect upon contemporary theories of the mind -- in particular, the theory called functionalism. According to functionalism, the human mind is essentially a piece of computer software running on the brain (which is the hardware, or "wetware" as it is sometimes called). To help students think more critically about the plausibility of this theory, we wanted a robot that would be able to "understand" English (or at least simulate that ability), to "remember" what it had been told, to "believe" things about the world, and even to "make judgments" about how it ought to behave. With the ProtoThinker software, we had a program that could do just that.

But there are many who argue that a desktop computer, with no sensory apparatus nor anyway to interact with the world, could never genuinely understand a language no matter how impressive the computer program. Such people typically argue that for words of a language to have meaning, for them to geninely "refer to" (or be about) objects in the world, there must be a causal connection between the machine and the objects about which it speaks.

For that reason, we needed to give the ProtoThinker software a robotic arm to allow it manipulate the objects (e.g. pick up the block) that it talked about. So our student researchers built our first Robot, Iris 1.1. We taught Iris things about the world -- including things about itself -- and we gave it a synthetic voice (a TTS program generously donated by Lucent Technologies) and a robot arm.

You can meet Iris 1. Do you think that Iris really understands what "she" is talking about? Does she really know what the words 'block' and 'cup' mean? You think about that question. When your done exploring Iris 1.1, go on to explore Iris.2.

Meet IRIS 1.0

Building Iris 1


  • ProtoThinker

    Iris.1 relies on the ProtoThinker software as it's primary artificial intelligence program. ProtoThinker contributes a natural language processor, deductive and some inductive inference capabilities, moral commitments and many other "cognitive" abilities. The original Iris 1 used an early DOS version of ProtoThinker.

  • Text-To-Speech (TTS)

    We are grateful to Lucent Technologies (aka "Bell Labs") for allowing us to use the AT&T FlexTalk(TM) Speech Synthesis, Release 1.2 text-to-speech program. The TTS program is not integrated with the ProtoThinker software using the same TTS monitoring program that Iris 1.1 uses. Instead, the central control program can be set to recognize and integrate a TTS program.


  • Computers

    Iris.1 ran on a basic PC.

  • Microbot Teachmover

    The TeachMover arm was a popular robotic arm used in classroom settings.