I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords!
I recently put out a request on my personal Facebook page for a blog idea. My Uncle suggested robots…just robots. So I got to thinking about robots and what they mean for our future.
Part of me believes that, within my lifetime at least, robots will always be tools and appliances with no sentience or true AI. But there is the sci-fi nerd part of me that thinks Skynet will soon take over.
Robots are now, and have been for decades, an integral part of our lives. We’ve used robots for automated jobs in manufacturing, for assisting us in hard labor tasks like moving land and, with the advent of computing, offloaded much of our computation, storage, and management to robots/computers.
The use of robots will only increase from this point in history, barring some kind of cataclysmic event that eradicates technology and most humans. I think the likelihood of Skynet taking over before we kill ourselves through war is unlikely. But robots will, undoubtedly, replace humans in many areas. In fact, this is already happening. Robots have replaced thousands of humans in manufacturing. You don’t need a person to sort things, or put things together, or even move things from one place to another. The Lego factory is a prime example of this type of automation. A large percentage of their manufacturing process is done in a huge warehouse with zero humans.
Fast food restaurants are starting to replace human cashiers with machines that take your order. It is sometimes impossible to speak to a human on the phone when calling a customer support line. The newest idea for robot use, in the business sector, is automated trucks to deliver goods.
The medical profession is looking to robotics to help improve the lives of humans. Prosthetics are pushing for limbs that aren’t just decorative or supportive, but that actually function like the missing limb and provide sensations like hot, cold, and pressure. There are even tests to improve upon the design of an arm to lift more, or move in a more multi-function manner. There is at least one research team trying to build an entire human. What I mean by that, is that they are replicating all of the organs, veins, bones, etc., of a human in order to create a full “person”.
The military is investing heavily in robotics to create super suits for soldiers, automated and/or guided robots that navigate uneven terrain to do reconnaissance and to defuse bombs, drones that are becoming more and more sophisticated, tiny robots that can be used for spying, and probably a TON of other projects to which we are not privy.
So there is no doubt that robots are the future…but are sentient robots where we’re headed?
While movies and literature have long since attributed human personality characteristics to robots, in real world practice, that isn’t something that has happened until very recently. With the advent of “AI”, we’ve come one step closer to the sentient frontier. It isn’t uncommon now to talk to your devices through programs like Siri or Alexa. YouTube is full of videos of people talking to robots and getting some rather ridiculous or even some borderline scary responses.
So, as of now, true AI is still in the distance. Even without relying on the introduction of a strong AI, it is unlikely that we’ll see domestic robots any time soon. Functional robots still rely heavily on human intervention and interaction. The robots that perform best are those linked to a remote control and/or have pre-programmed functions. The technology for a fully automated, adaptive robot is not quite here yet. That being said, we may see domestic robots for limited uses…most likely for “adult” (warning: NSFW link) usage because, well…porn tends to drive new technology and people will pay the big bucks for that sort of thing. There are robots right now that are being used for that purpose, and there are even ethics activists trying to work against the practice.
My prediction, for my lifetime, is to see greater advances in computing and virtual technology, but we won’t see huge strides in domesticated robotics. It comes down to safety. Robots, without human control, can be dangerous and unpredictable. And since domestic robots would be needed primarily for our most vulnerable (babies, children, and the elderly), the need for safety is paramount. Plus there is the creepiness factor. Even the most realistic robots, still do not look truly human. It is more likely that androids will be humanoid in shape, but won’t try to replicate the actual look of a human.
So what do you think?Are we closer to Bicentennial man than I think? Is iRobot on the horizon? Or will our dreams of meeting a real life Data go unfulfilled?
I don’t know the answer for sure, but for now, enjoy watching these funny robot fails!