Each day, we’re warned about new dangers, and robots frequently inhabit our fears to make us paranoid of the future. For every lovable WALL-E, there’s a terrifying Terminator. We fear the latter would usher in the fall of our civilization and crush our skulls under its cyborg feet.
Oh please! Not the robots again
We’ve heard this kind of thing before. If you’re like me, you are tired of hearing the same old song since the early 1980s, when the car industry became robotized. Hollywood received good material for apocalyptical movies. But we cannot take these dystopian future predictions seriously while we watch our robot vacuum cleaners struggle with maneuvering around a couple of chairs. When will these household robots evolve into superintelligent killing machines? The question is worth asking after seeing twenty-first-century hi-tech armies being challenged by poorly educated men with Kalashnikovs in their hands.
Schadenfreude and the rise of the machines
While we waited for the robot revolution, we had fun at the beginning of this century by watching YouTube videos of the ASIMO robot’s mishaps. It seems that robotic research has caused more entertainment than admiration. We smile when the mighty suffer in popular entertainment. Watching robots fail is now the epic enjoyable sport for working classes, just as watching VCR tapes was in the previous century.
Robot missteps in production lines reassure us that the robots will not jeopardize our future. Or will they? The robots may be out to prove themselves with the new Atlas. Unveiled earlier this year by Boston Dynamics, the Atlas shocked many, including the company owner, Google. Boston Dynamics gained cult popularity and brought robots into the fourth dimension with their previous robotic dogs, changing the face of modern robots forever. Those dogs were a lifetime away from ASIMO, but the Atlas is closer to what people fear about intelligent machines. It didn’t take long for Google to realize that Boston Dynamics had little appeal in public opinion. Thus, fearing a new Google Glass, they announced they’re putting Boston Dynamics up for sale.
The robots are out there, in disguise
You probably wouldn’t be able to tell from a quick look outside, but robots are silently and rapidly becoming part of our streets’ inventory; they’re simply disguised as something else. For instance, take Copenhagen Metro. Copenhagen, known for its low-tech transport (50% of people commute by bike), was the first city in the world to have a fully automatized, state-of-the-art network back in 2008. Computers and hi-tech robotic trains deliver 89.9% accuracy and no accidents, with trains running up to 80 kilometers per hour less than 60 seconds from each other. By the time you read this, a robot will be driving below my window every minute.
Computers and robots are taking to the streets. Even my basic VW Up has a computer that can think faster than I can and thus take over in dangerous situations. (My wife argues, however, that outthinking me doesn’t require advanced software.) The list is long and sometimes secretive. For example, every minute, computers help planes land without the passengers’ knowledge. Imagine the panic that would ensue in the cabin if the captain were to announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, because of terrible visibility conditions, we have decided to let the plane land by itself.”
And we still laugh at the bots
Just as we had fun at the expense of the ASIMO robot, my children laugh at Siri. The clumsiness of the AI and some bots still provides the same kind of entertainment. Marketing professionals and creative directors in the advertising industry still distrust the technology. But the scale of the automatization project is evident. We must acknowledge that automatization is no longer a blue-collar issue and goes far beyond the production line and into marketing, customer service, journalism, business consulting, and law firm associates. Robots even write corporate earnings reports for the Associated Press. Sooner or later, your work will not resemble what it is now.
Many of the smartest people in the industry agree that computer capacity is no longer a problem. Instead, the issue is to find the right design to create services that learn from their own mistakes and will change our lives definitely.
Alexa is the next step in the quest to fill our home with bots. Amazon Echo might have changed my perspective on the bots. After all, it’s the closest thing to a 24/7 shopping assistant sitting in my living room, and it includes more than 100 services, from Nest to Uber. This this is the real deal coming from Amazon, who took in 39.3% of online holiday e-commerce spending in the United States last year. Google want to be there and has just presented their own Google Home assistant this week.
You can still laugh at the robots. The future may not yet be now, but it is getting closer.
Pictures: Minority Report. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2002. Terminator Salvation, Warner Home Video, 2009. Copenhagen Metro by flo-klee in Creative Commons. Amazon Eco by Amazon.