The robots are coming, and I’m fine with that
The world is now divided into two camps: those who love robots and can’t wait to see more of them, and those who, well, don’t. Which side are you on?
The fear of robots taking over the word is deep. Luminaries such as Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking have sounded the alarm bells over intelligent robots with the capability to cause untold harm to their human creators.
The story runs along the lines of the typical robot Hollywood production. A robot outgrows the intelligence of the scientists who created it, who, realizing their mistake tries to contain the cyborg. The robot, now infused with sentience, refuses to bear witness to its own destruction and embarks on a global campaign of terror. Inferior humans stand no chance.
While Hollywood has done its part to instil fear in humans, proponents see a much more symbiotic and mutually beneficial co-existence between man and machine.
Go to any establishment that has employed robots and see how these computers are improving the customer experience. We have highlighted several of these applications including an LG robot that has been deployed at Incheon Airport in South Korea since last year. This helpful Android is capable of assisting travellers, including guiding lost and late customers to their gates.
Mush closer to home, Dubai Police has its own Robocop in its ranks that among other things, can help police officers identify and catch offenders through facial recognition. The robot is also fitted with a built-in tablet which allows people to complete smart police services.
What really worries the cynics is the imminent blending of robotics and AI. For now, robots are ‘barely literate’, only completing rather simple tasks programmed into them. Soon enough, these androids will be able to do much more first through machine learning where they learn from their environment and adapt accordingly.
Of particular concern is the impact of intelligent robots on jobs. There’s widespread fear that millions of jobs are at stake worldwide as machines take over jobs now under the purview of humans.
We have quoted the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, who recently warned of mass unemployment as a result of an imminent robot-driven fourth industrial revolution.
This development will be at least as bad as the first industrial revolution which led to mass employment across Europe and led to social upheaval. Worse, Haldane warns, there will be no jobs to replace those lost to machines leading to long-term unemployment on a large scale, as people become ‘technologically unemployed’. That doesn’t make for a very comfortable reading.
On the other side of the debate are enthusiasts who are convinced AI and robots will push humans to new heights of achievement by complementing, not replacing, human tasks. The most popular argument is that machines can take over the menial and repetitive tasks and release humans to more creative and hopefully rewarding tasks.
We have already seen this in action, via drones, which have taken over tasks such as aerial surveillance and photography with remarkable results. No need for humans to fly over potentially dangerous construction zones, oil rigs and electric power installations. Most drones still require a human to operate, but the newest kids on the UAV block have a ‘set it and forget it’ feature. Their human owners will be left with the more complex analysis tasks. And this is a great example of what automation can do.
It’s still early days for robotics, despite all the excitement around the Dubai Robocop for instance. Some of what’s to come is scary for sure. Militaries all over the world are experimenting with robot soldiers. They are right now engaged in decidedly worthy tasks of sniffing out roadside bombs and clearing landmines. Soon, however, they will be armed, which could lead to wars of even greater catastrophic outcomes. Hence the rise of ethical AI movement to forestall misuse of the technology.
Overall, the great consensus is that robotics and AI will do humanity a lot of good. I, for one, welcome our new Android overlords.