Robotics is a time-tested scientific fiction trope guaranteed to instill fear in those who have watched the Ironman series or the Terminator Movies and wondered, is it even possible? Well, it is. But in reality, the concept is being used to build robots that are faster, better, smarter and more useful. In response to this development, dystopian views of automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have become a basic fabric of the popular culture, awakening and evoking some of our wildest fears. This paranoia can be attributed to the uncertainty surrounding the concept and historical consequences of disruptive inventions as witnessed during the previous technological revolutions.
Just like the steam engine and the spinning jenny at the wake of the first industrial revolution, this automated and computerized technology is raising concerns against the compromise of human control in the production process, and the likelihood of mass job losses. Unfortunately, this so-called "fourth industrial revolution" is unmistakably going to follow the precedent set by the first. And like any other disruptive technology, it will cause a significant transformation to the society, economy, and work as a whole. With no doubt, some jobs will be eliminated, while the profiles of others will be dramatically changed, compelling individuals and companies to reinvent, retrain and reorient themselves. At its finality, robotics will replace most manual routine tasks, create opportunities for better-qualified jobs and generate more avenues for wealth creation.
Even so, we should not anticipate a world of robotic overloads, resonant to the Terminator movies. Technically, experts foresee the role of artificial intelligence and robotics being closer to the Iron Man series – an artificial intelligence system built and designed to help its human creator, instead of replacing him.
The capability of machines to perform tasks previously done by humans has been a troubling concern ever since the advent of the industrial revolution. With machines being able to virtually perform any conceivable task and analytically pass tests that were previously seen as epithets of self-awareness, many feel that the rise of the robotic age could be a threat to employment
Though these sentiments have some elements of truth in them, experts are confident that it will not result in an economic collapse. On the contrary, robots will keep the economy running efficiently, bolster its output, and subsequently free up human labor for other undertakings.
For instance, robots have taken over picking and packaging orders in several Amazon warehouses. In fact, it is estimated that over 45000 robots have been deployed in twenty fulfillment centers globally, making operations smooth and more efficient.
Automation has also received a warm welcome in more refined industries. In winemaking regions around the globe, “wine bots” are being used to maintain vineyards, sufficiently addressing the challenge of finding human labor during pruning and harvesting seasons. And it is not just the menial sector that is receiving this transformation. For paralegals and lawyers, artificial intelligence can be used to perform tiresome and time-consuming document reviews that take on several human hours, by browsing through thousands of documents looking for specific concepts and word mentions. This is not only a more efficient approach but also a chance for legal practitioners to focus on the more rewarding aspects of their work.
On the automobile scene, a robot being developed and designed by Mitsubishi industries will perform laborious tasks such as such as inspecting power and industrial plants, keeping workers out of danger and freeing up time for other tasks.
The introduction of personal digital assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Now is just a tip of the iceberg for an emerging technology. Developers are building more sophisticated Algorithms with the capacity to learn from the environment and data and acclimate their responses accordingly. For personal digital assistants, users get personalized responses thanks to machine learning.
That digital assistant on your table or in your pocket is just a snippet of a rapidly growing sector.
Robot learning, a situation where robots can learn from the environment – to such an extent that they can build better versions of themselves to solve challenges in a better way is rising fast. Developers can pack a robot with the right algorithms, enough processing power, and capable sensors to build a machine that is that is self-improving. This concept will be adopted in the future to build products that are better than the products they were designed to create.
Though the technology is in its infancy, the concept has already been proven, and we can expect the rate of progress to rise in the near future significantly. This will transform virtually every industry. And when complimented by improved data processing and 3D printing, enhanced and new models will be prototyped, designed, tested and released to the public faster than previous development cycles could.
In the last decade, autonomous military drones and unmanned aerial vehicles have elicited a lot of interest. Since their first application during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the technology has become more multifaceted with sophisticated sensors and complex algorithms making it possible for the military to execute remote strikes. Today, these flying robots have the capacity to fly by themselves, detect reacts, react to them and avoid collisions with other airplanes. However, humans remain in control of attack systems.
On the ground, Police and the military have been using bomb disposal robots for years. Better and more complex systems are also in development, with companies like Boston Dynamics developing a dog like LS3 robot with the capacity to operate autonomously and support troops in all terrains by leveraging on GPS and sophisticated optical sensors.
Besides the military and law enforcing agencies, civilians are also adopting this technology but for peaceful purposes. For instance, UAV technology is being used to improve autopilots in passenger planes, while drones are being used by Facebook to launch solar powered hotspots to provide internet in remote places. On the other hand, Google is also investing in robotic companies, many of which have received their inspiration from the military to build Self-driving cars, search and rescue robots and autonomous delivery drones.
These futuristic autonomous vehicles that can traverse virtually any conceivable terrain will transform the global supply chain as we know it. At this same time, all the leading automobile manufacturers are banking on driverless technology. With statistics indicating that self-driving cars are safer than human-driven ones, several countries have passed legislation allowing them to operate on roads.
With a majority of the world’s developed economies caving under pressure from a predominantly aging population, the entry of robots could be a blessing in disguise. For instance, in Japan - a country hit hardest by the greying population, the introduction of a robot caregiver by the ministry of health has been a game changer. In Sweden, developers have built the GiraffPlus robotic system, which can autonomously install sensors in a home to track everything from a patient’s blood pressure to the number of seizures he gets.
When combined with automated pharmaceutical technology – like the one rolled out in rural Scotland, autonomous drone delivery of medicines and self-driving ambulances to carry patients to and from medical institutions, these robots have the capacity to provide near perfect medical care and analysis. Not to forget, surgical robots are also gaining momentum. And even though a recent study has attributed them to 144 deaths from 1.7 million surgeries, we cannot deny the fact that they are more efficient, enabling less disruptive surgeries and consequently promoting faster recovery. Thanks to them, more patients have access to previously expensive medical procedures at very affordable rates, and this is expected to rise in future.
Well, to be honest, several predictable occupations are on the mercies of artificial technology. It is not only the blue collar jobs. People with professional degrees like doctors and lawyers are doing work that is highly predictable. And truth be told, most of these jobs are eventually going to be replaced by robots.
Today’s innovation will dictate why where and how robots are employed exponentially. Like the computer was designed and built to help engineers perform immaculately, robots will become one with workers, helping them do their jobs better.
These machines are handy tools, and if their ownership is allowed to spread, the general public could leverage it to become more productive, subsequently increasing their leisure time and earnings. If this happens, the society could restore its middle-class dream that has for long been the driver for economic growth and technological ambition.
The capacity of robots to work in unison via connected systems is set to be the crowning moment of the robotic revolution. According to a 2015 Global Cyber Impact study, internet-based machine to machine communication otherwise known as IOT is prospected to comprise of over 50 billion interconnected devices by the end of 2020. Add this to the ability of these robots – from self-driving cars to manufacturing robots, fitness monitoring devices to kitchen utensils, and realize that we could be on the verge of a new technological revolution.