Robots are everywhere, it seems. They’re in our homes in the form of little battery-powered vacuum cleaners, in factories painting auto-bodies and used as tools for combat in war zones. They’re even being used at concerts to mingle with the sweaty masses. The big question is not if or why our culture is obsessed with robots, but how will robots affect our society? Do they help or hinder, and where is the world of robotics headed?
On the one hand, robotics technology can be a great benefit to mankind. After all, robot surgeons save many lives. On the other hand, military robots used to exert lethal force can have the opposite effect. If we don’t carefully monitor what we are doing in various industries, robots can have dangerous impacts. For example, the Rover Spy Tank, which, as the name suggests, helps people invade privacy. Some military robots have acquired several forms of semi-autonomy, which includes the ability to find power sources on their own and the ability to select target to attack independently. These obviously pose serious threat and danger.
Outside of ethical issues, robots can be extremely helpful:
- The Engkey Robot: Teaches children in South Korea how to speak English, an alternative to a human teacher that makes some feel less nervous
- The Remote Catheter Manipulation System: Allows doctors to perform heart surgeries remotely, reducing the medical risks
- Toyota: Unveiled robots to help the elderly and the incapacitated walk by helping them balance, using sensors to detect hip movement, and transferring patients over short distances
- Robot Restaurateurs: One Chinese restaurant is entirely staffed by robot waiters, chefs and entertainers
- Yotel Hotel: Features luggage-lifting robots for guests
- Actroids: Humanoid robots with lifelike appearances and the ability to display human-like facial emotions
While the idea of killer robots remains the subject of much debate, there is no doubt that the world will benefit from more advanced tech-built helpers with killer skills.
What is the next technological robotics innovation? As computers get faster, one can assume that the robots of the future will become closer and closer to possessing human-like qualities. Most recently, engineers from the University of Arizona developed a set of robotic legs that essentially work by mimicking the movements of humans. Late last month, Google scientists created one of the largest neural networks for machine learning by connecting 16,000 computer processors, which they turned loose on the Internet to learn on their own. In Dublin, a team of “extreme lifeloggers” wear video cameras 24/7 to capture every experience, with the belief that someday those memories will be turned into software allowing us to live on even after death (perhaps in the form of an actroid.) We increasingly dislike the thought of forgetting or being forgotten, with developments such as Facebook Timeline and out-of-print books being digitized as proof, so applying that to our recent obsession, robotics, is not surprising.
The mechanical giants are fueling our obsession. The number of movies and books about robots confirms that. According to Amazon.com, there are almost 1,500 movies and over 10,000 books about robots. This can be explained by the technology that is being developed, such as the actroids. That impressive yet dangerous technology fuels the fear of robots taking over the world or waging a war against humans and marketers are capitalizing on that fear. Here are some examples of movies and books that have come out in the last decade in response to people’s trepidation about robots:
- “How to Survive a Robot Uprising”, “Robopocalypse” and “Amped” by Daniel H. Wilson
- “Robot and Frank”
- “The Terminator”
- “The Matrix”
- “I, Robot”
Between film and books, and the rising technology, the conversation around robots is immense. So, what are you most excited about the future of robotics? We want to hear from you.
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