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01 Sep 2017

Rise of the Robots

Robotic technology continues to make headlines, as artificial intelligence and innovative hardware converge in clever and surprising ways. From mechanical factory workers and robotic surgeons through to moving sex dolls and robotic vacuum cleaners, automation has become a big part of our everyday life. The rise of the robots is not without its problems, however, as experts warn of job losses, moral uncertainty, and the unintended consequences of emergent systems.

Artificial intelligence has given robots a new sense of life, from yesterday's vision of the future to something that will impact us all. Systems such as IBM's Watson and Google's Alpha project equip artificial neural networks with enormous computing power, allowing them to solve complex engineering problems, defeat Go masters, and accomplish other impressive feats. While they may not be making world-changing decisions just yet, intelligent systems are beginning to impact the world one calculation at a time.

Robotic technology depends on the integration of intelligent software systems with robust hardware solutions. While everyday people do not have access to the supercomputers used by IBM and Google, this same technology is starting to filter down to smaller hardware devices like robotic vacuum cleaners and home security systems. Some of the hardware advances seen over the last few years include 3D silicon logic stacks, resistive RAM, nanotube circuits, and sensors designed to interact with every part of the environment. Some of the more famous robots to utilise this technology include the dual-arm collaborative robot YuMi, the service robot REEM, and Kodomoroid the communications droid. 

The rise of the robots will affect the way we work, with greater automation slowing hiring in some areas and creating jobs in others according to ManpowerGroup in 'The Skills Revolution' report. Ongoing training and education are more essential than ever, with 65% of Gen Z jobs not even existing yet and skills cycles becoming shorter than ever before. "Creativity, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility are skills that will tap human potential and allow people to augment robots, rather than be replaced by them." said the report, which also warned of an increasing gulf between the Haves and Have Nots based on access to skills and technology.

As robotic artificial intelligence begins to replace human decision making, we may also be faced with a number of moral challenges. For example, AI can be inherently racist and sexist when it uses historical data to make decisions. While humans are good at being creative in order to challenge unwanted social norms, platforms that use big data are often unable to do anything other than reflect pre-existing biases and inequalities. According to Maxine Mackintosh, a leading expert in health data, the problem is mainly the fault of skewed data being used by robotic platforms: “If you want to take steps towards changing that you can’t just use historical information.” While robots will improve efficiency and control, steps need to be taken to help guide this technology for the benefit of human society.


Image source:  Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock