Huh. I may have just figured out my next research proposal.
Interestingly, the "direct control" is also gradual: You're able to position your hand very precisely without meeting to know where your arm is going.
The system is even flexible enough that it can eventually learn unfamiliar movements and allow you to "delegate" them as well. (E.g. an experienced dancer or Yoga practitioner)
At the lowest granularity, they have servomotors, encoders/resolvers, and kinematics that convert motor rotation to a motion in 3D space. Robot manufacturers have made the code to make a joint or linear move to a predefined X/Y/Z/i/j/k location in space using those tools really quite simple. Inputs and outputs to control grippers and other end-of-arm tools are also straightforward. As long as you keep the process low-level, they're incredibly reliable and easy to program: a clever maintenance technician can pick up a pendant for the first time and have a well-scoped task programmed in a week. A competent sales engineer can clamp a small robot to a conference room table and demonstrate picking up and putting together your product in a one-hour sales demo.
It's when you expand the scope when it gets really complicated: ask it to pick up a variety of objects, located by vision algorithms in arbitrary orientations and locations, that are moving in real time, in a changing environment, is simply a hard problem - and I think it always will be. Robots really only know how to move their tool center point from one location to another, and asking them to "do what I mean" and "pick up one of these and put it on one of those without making me worry about low-level stuff" is a level of simplification that has never really worked in any other domain.
And two, for “advanced” robots (quadrupeds/humanoids) it’s very hard to get them to even balance, much less walk. Yes, there are robots that do this today — surprisingly well, in fact. But there is a tremendous amount going on algorithmically under the hood to make it happen. Figuring out how to make them work took decades of research in controls.
This is largely a restatement of what you said above, so I suppose it depends on what you mean by “low level”. My intent above was low level in horse terms, which includes standing and walking. Things humans think of as atomic behaviors.
It's just that this body of knowledge is not really compatible with the kind of stuff that the hyper-rationalist cult of lesswrong are into, and so tends to be ignored.
In fact, the author here is re-inventing Cybernetics from whole cloth (especially that of Ashby and Beer, in particular, Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety and Beer's Viable System Model), but without any engagement with the mass of existing knowledge.
[EDIT: I've just realized that the original author is being re-posted on lesswrong in this case, and isn't necessarily part of that milieu. I'd still encourage them (if they're reading) to check out Ross Ashby and Stafford Beer, because their intuitions align very strongly with the kind of research done by those Cyberneticians!]
Perhaps it works in horses too ?
Human "manure" was also as big a problem: sewers were relatively recent and still being build, and toilets were a brand new invention. Yet we've largely solved this issue without getting rid of people from cities.
Relate and negotiate turns out to be a much healthier metaphor for getting shit done, too.
For instance, cattle have a way of existence in which they are comfortable. (They really don't like anyone directly behind them, but off the rear quarter is tolerable. Structure like a fence or a road makes it easier for them to walk in a straight line. A single animal might be comfortable in isolation most of the time, but will seek to join a group when stressed. A path that is comfortable at a given speed will not be followed at a higher speed. Etc.) One person who understands that way and is willing to work within it can move a large herd more quickly and easily than twenty ignorant people.
ISTM human beings are also "domesticated", although they display a broader range of interesting behaviors than other domesticated animals do.
Re: Why we domesticate horses, but not zebras.
Flaccid Horse Mass is my new band name.
I'm glad to see this blog active again after a year of quiet.
Full disclosure: I organize for LW Austin group.
For many reasons, I don't believe it's responsible to link people there.
Some starting points below, but please do your own research:
Communicating the main goals to engineers (take me to London) is essential. The engineers might not know where, or even what "London" is. Pointing the horse's head in the right direction and saying "go" is all you need to do to make progress in the right direction. Micromanaging every leg movement, or telling the horse to use a bicycle is counterproductive (Agile! Jira! Confluence! Monday! Whatever the latest trend is!) If the horse teaches itself to ride a bicycle (engineers choose a system because they need it) then that does reduce the control that management has. Is that a bad thing if it still gets you to London faster?
Especially for dogs, you pose a problem in the form of "How do I get a reward from this Hooman?" And by adjusting the difficulty of the required solution a dog understands what you want.