The Potter’s Hands
A very handy thing to have
Watching a master potter’s hands at work, you should notice the manual dexterity and know-how required to make quality pots. Pottery instructors warn that “clay can move to your lightest touch, it takes time and experience to gain mastery over many of the skills involved.” And: “Through experience your hands begin to ‘see’ and your muscles learn the subtle dance that pushes the clay just right.”1
Actually, the amazing dexterity and sensitivity of the human hand so exemplified by a skilled potter is the envy of robotics engineers. Dubbing it “one of nature’s marvels”, the human hand remains “a stupendous challenge to engineers who would replicate it”, despite years of trying.2 That’s understandable, given the hand has over 30 muscles, along with 29 flexible joints and thousands of specialized nerve endings providing a sensory system that can instantly detect whether an object is hot or cold, its surface smooth or rough, and even how firmly or gently it should be grasped.
In the words of one research team, “No wonder, then, that creating robot hands with even a fraction of human capabilities has proved an elusive goal.”2 They certainly know their subject, having recently won a competition3 to develop multi-fingered robotic hands that could complete a variety of tasks, like picking up a telephone handset or operating a power drill. It was a huge collaborative effort, with team members spanning three organizations4 working on this quest for up to a decade. Their winning design has many great attributes, but the researchers acknowledge it is really only designed to copy a tiny subset of what the human hand can do. And they proffer their robotic creation as simply a “starting point” for other researchers to hopefully improve on further.
There’s a strong message in all this regarding evolutionary claims. Did our hands, the inspiration for all this design effort, really have no Designer? Is ‘God’ really just a concept that man has dreamed up? Or, as recorded in Isaiah:5
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? (Isaiah 29:16)
Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” Does your work say, “He has no hands”? (Isaiah 45:9)
References and notes
- Peterson, B., Three foundations of pottery skills, pottery.about.com, acc. 22 February 2015. Return to text.
- Howe, R., Dollar, A., and Claffee, M., Inexpensive, durable plastic hands let robots get a grip: This rubber-jointed hand can pick up a telephone and use a drill, spectrum.ieee.org, 21 November 2014. Return to text.
- The Autonomous Robotic Manipulation program, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Return to text.
- Yale University, Harvard University, and iRobot (based in Bedford, Massachusetts, and which oversaw the project as a whole). Return to text.
- Isaiah 29:16, 45:9 (NIV, 1984). See also Isaiah 64:8. Return to text.