Robots everywhere doing everything
…Is an ideal scenario to many with a futuristic vision. Yet, some are convinced the consequences will not be good for everyone.
As early as 1930 in his essay entitled, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted
…technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.
Dog and cat bots
In December 2013 Google bought Boston Dynamics, its eighth and most significant acquisition of robotics companies in the U.S. and Japan. Boston Dynamics created the four-legged BigDog that walks and trots over rough terrain, and a Wildcat robot that can gallop at high speeds.
On the one hand
Innovations in robotics bring higher efficiencies and lower costs to the personal and business worlds. The impact is already evident in farm, medical, retail, military and manufacturing systems, and certainly in toys and entertainment arenas.
Vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers
A U.S. company, iRobot, manufactures a robotic vacuum cleaner, Roomba, other robotic domestic products, robots for businesses, public safety operations and defense. On August 15, 2015, the FCC approved iRobot’s proposal to build and sell a robotic lawn mower for residential use.
Fruit and dairy farms
Farmers lose crops for lack of manual laborers to pick their fruit. Eliza Strickland wrote in the June 2007 issue of Wired magazine that California Citrus Growers began working in 2004 with Vision Robotics in San Diego for a solution.
Greg Martin reported on AgInfo.net radio on August 13, 2015 that apple farmers face the same problem today. This fall, mechanical engineers at WSU Tri-Cities will test robotic apple pickers.
Automatic milking machines are not new to dairy farmers. Five years ago Aaron Saenz wrote for SingularityHub.com about Lely Corporation’s robotic Astronaut A4, “teat-detection system,” and changes it brought to farm operations in France:
…robots handling all levels of production and where humans were only present on Sundays so as to comply with French law. The dairy farm (which makes cheese) has 180 cows, but only three farmers.
Being here, being there, being almost anywhere
The Economist reported on “telepresence robots” that enable a person to be in two places at once.
For instance, to and from:
- Home, the office, or while traveling
- Doctor and patient in consultations and
- Family doctors and surgeons in hospitals
- Night-time security patrols
SingularityU.com tells of another application being tested for telepresence robots – for shoppers at Lowe’s. “OSHbot” is its name, and it
… will assist customers to quickly navigate stores by directing them to specific products and providing real-time information about product promotions and inventory.
Public safety and national defense
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) … tasked with preventing and fomenting strategic technological surprise…, held a Robotics Challenge in June 2015, offering a total of $3.5M in prizes. Teams from Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan and South Korea – the first-place winner – joined U.S. teams in outdoor competitions among robots designed for disaster response.
But Popular Science writer Erik Sofge was not impressed with the event. “The DARPA Robotics Challenge Was A Bust” because so many robots kept falling down and basically, looked silly. Spectators were cheering minor accomplishments as if the contestants were little toddlers, Sofge said.
Nevertheless, DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar, spoke of the event as
…the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters…
Even some journalists are robots (but not this one)
An article published March 28, 2014 by Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania tells about a corps of robot journalists:
… the new programs — artificial intelligence (AI) programs — get the facts and write the story within a fraction of a second. Today, there are stories written in Forbes and other news magazines that are untouched by human journalists.
4-H established a Program in 2009 to register robotics clubs and curriculum to encourage students’ progress in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
In partnership with National Geographic Society, the 2015 Engineering Exploration Challenge ran from May 1 to August 1.
4-H-ers held a special robotics event on August 16 at the 2015 State Fair in Sedalia, Mo. entitled “Show Me Robotics at the State Fair.”
On the other hand, back to Keynes…
A PBS New Hour video broadcast on July 30, 2015 discussed the question: “Do labor saving robots spell doom for American workers?”
Golf caddy and warehouse robots can perform the work of humans in those and similar low-pay jobs.
Blogger Alex Hernandez wrote August 13, 2015 on “Robots and the Future of the World’s Workforce,” noting that
…if we’re building a future of robot service, machines that will perform tasks that humans used to perform, where does that leave an entire segment of workers?
Some economists and analysts fear robots will replace manual laborers such as fruit pickers and assembly-line workers. Others predict white collar workers in administrative jobs are most likely to lose their jobs.
Of concern – ethics and social policy
Enthusiasts and skeptics alike recognize the potential problems and questions accompanying a global robot surge.
Foreign Affairs July/August 2015 featured “Hi, Robot,” a series of articles on “Work and Life in the Age of Automation.”
- Daniela Rus concludes for the future that “robots will extend …digital revolution further into the physical realm and deeper into everyday life…” She writes about Google’s self-driving cars and personal robots.
- Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee compare the change from horses to automobile horse power in the past, and suggest that human labor will not remain “the most important factor of production.”
- Martin Wolf says we must shape the good and manage the bad elements of new technologies. He thinks it may be necessary to redistribute income and wealth. Yet, he says, “…there is nothing extraordinary in the changes we are now experiencing.”
- Illah Reza Nourbakhsh writes of a robot dystopia, what Merriam-Webster defines as: “An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Robot design and regulations, ingenuity and social awareness must combine to preclude the dystopia. Otherwise:
It is only a matter of time,” she says, before human-robot couplings greatly outperform purely biological systems.
- Nicolas Colin and Bruno Palier propose “flexisecurity” as the best response to those in manufacturing, retail and office jobs who are most likely to be replaced. If the government provides healthcare, housing, education and training, effectively separating these benefits from employment, humans who lose their jobs to robots, or have to find new ones will suffer less fear and stress.
Meanwhile, for humans seeking work in robotics
- CareerBuilder jobs in robotics
- NASA Careers
- ABB robot manufacturing facility in Auburn Hills