Humans have always been fascinated by robots, a fascination
fueled in part by science-fiction renderings of such characters as
R2D2, C3PO, HAL, The Terminator,
However, a world run by robots is no longer
science-fiction. Today, robotic systems work on assembly lines;
clean floors; monitor kids; help the disabled; explore Mars; and
assist in our security.
Rodney Brooks says
the robotics industry is undergoing huge changes with major focus
now on personal robots. Industry consultant Dr. Joanne
Pransky agrees. In 10 years, Pransky expects to purchase a
robot that can clean house, prepare and serve meals, and help her
become more efficient with tomorrow’s technologies.
Much impetus for robot development comes from Japan, where
demographic trends and labor costs have created a growing market
for machines that replace humans. Hitachi’s EMIEW can perform any number of factory and
“Hold on”, say opponents. Though robots perform many mundane and
physical jobs that humans don’t want, the net result is that
millions become unemployed. Seegrid chief scientist,
Hans Moravec agrees
that future robotic development could be disruptive to the
Since the dawn of humanity and the advent of civilized life,
humans have depended on technology. Carving out flint stones,
controlling fire, inventing the wheel, and developing the printing
press have brought us to self-serving gas stations, ATMs and
automated checkouts. Technology has always sparked the engine that drives
civilization forward, and will continue to be essential for
progress into and through the extended future.
Experts predict that by 2015, automation will further evolve
with “smart” radio-frequency identification chips (RFID), which
will identify store items you select and automatically charge them
to your credit card as you walk out the door.
More sophisticated robotics will take us to the next level. By
2025, auto-drive systems installed in cars, trucks and busses will
speak perfect human, and armed with superior intelligence and
senses, along with radar and infra-red abilities, will quickly make
driverless vehicles the safest method of transportation.
Two-legged robotic systems will advance during this same
time-frame. Sony Qrio, Honda Asimo, and Toyota Personal Robot
models will morph into machines that see, hear, move and manipulate
objects at levels roughly equivalent, and in some cases superior,
to humans. (cont.)
In a recent report,
The World in 2030, futurologist Ray Hammond predicts that over the
next two to three decades, breakthroughs in computing, healthcare,
communications, and robotics could mark the beginning of the end
for human evolution as it has progressed over the last two million
“As machines surpass the intellectual capacity of humans,”
Hammond says, “they will become a companion species on Earth, but
could eventually turn into humanity’s successors.” However, with
biotech and nanotech advances expected in the 2010s and 2020s, humans
will be able to enhance their physical and cognitive abilities and
by as early as the 2030s, technologies could enable humans to
interface with these super-intelligent creations and share their
vast information-processing abilities.
Today, we are increasingly reliant on computers, cell phones,
robot vacuum cleaners, and automated TV programming systems such as
Tivo. These machines are considered “dumb” inanimate objects, but
experts believe that is about to change.
In the 2010s, household gadgets will begin to take on what some
call a “computer personality,” and serve as companion to family
members. At first, these helpful companions will be a digital image
– a talking avatar displayed on computer screens, cell phones, and
TVs. The avatars will eventually be embedded in clothing and
jewelry and later, enter our bodies as nano-implants beneath the
skin; and by mid-2020s, a more intelligent avatar will appear in
Robot companions will be incredibly smart. Projects like
IBM’s effort to build an artificial brain and
Farm goal to capture and store human thought could, some
experts believe, enable robots to gain consciousness. Our
companions could one day feel joy, fear, compassion, and other
emotions just like we do.
Personal robots have been a long time coming, but scientists now
say we can expect revolutionary machines that surpass human
physical and intellectual abilities within 22 years.
Today’s robots are mostly industrial types found in factories.
An example would be an arm that inserts a product into a box and
places it on a conveyor belt. Domestic robots in the service area –
vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, and security systems – are just
beginning to find their way into homes. UN statistics show
worldwide robotics sales increasing by double digits every year,
which has encouraged a host of companies to invest aggressively in
Robo-pets like Sony’s Aibo and NEC’s PaPeRo,
priced from $2,000 to $5,000, are pleasing children and providing
companionship for handicapped and elderly people around the globe.
Available soon in the $10,000 to $30,000 range will be human-like
robots such as Sony Qrio, Honda Asimo, and Toyota
These realistic marvels can speak and understand crude language,
recognize family members by sight, and perform many butler, chef,
and maid services.
European scientists, inspired by human biology, have created the
world’s first shape-shifting robot. This amazing machine has the
ability to morph into different shapes. It can start off as a small
car with four wheels. If it approaches an impassible wall, it
searches for a hole or crack and transforms itself into a snake.
After passing through the hole, it might encounter a staircase
where it would transform into a climbing device, go up the stairs,
and then become a car again. (cont.)
I can feel my relationship with nature changing. The other day a big ass bumble bee was hovering around my face for a prolonged period of time. I mean we were having a stare down. I’m relatively sure that it was a real bee, but it spent an unusual amount of time right in my face – flew away and then back several times. It felt like there was some intelligence and intention behind it’s activities. Like it was gathering information.
Now before you label me as paranoid (at least wait until the end of the post), consider all of the increased surveillance activity that we know is going on and think about what we might not (take Bob Woodward’s cryptic interview reference from last week as an example).
Advances in robotics, miniturization and cost reduction in video cameras are transforming the economics and viability of surveillance. The increasing number and granularity of commercial satellite technology platforms, aerial drones, advances in facial recognition and image processing are increasingly enabling visual quantification of everything that happens in outdoor space. This is a trend that will only accelerate, driven primarily by security threats and the increase in destructive capabilities of small groups of people and individuals.
For large metropolitan cities, there really is no choice in the matter. London has already embraced extensive monitoring of public spaces and New York City has undertaken an ambitious project which includes the Ring of Steel. Though interfaces like Google Maps and Google Street View are currently static, they will eventually become real-time as the world moves towards becoming an unscripted 24-7 reality tv program.
So how do I know if that bee was real or surveillance. Well, short of swatting it and finding out for sure, I don’t. But I do believe that pretty soon these will be just another weapon in an increasingly large arsenal of behavior mapping and large scale societal surveillance.
You may know DARPA as the government
agency responsible for developing thought-controlled prosthetics,
vehicles, and a slew of other innovative technologies for use
by the military. In a match made in heaven, they’ve teamed up with
iRobot Corp, the designers of consumer robotics like the Roomba
vacuum cleaner, to create a mobile communications robot for the
With prototypes expected by the end of the year, these
‘LANdroids” (Local Area Network droids) are intended to keep
communication channels open for soldiers on urban battlefields.
They’ll have the built-in smarts to reposition themselves and catch
the strongest signals, while avoiding obstacles and navigating
various terrains. And, at a $100 a piece price point, they’re
expendable should they happen to enter an enemy’s line of fire.
In addition to keeping our troops in contact with one another in
patchy network areas, the technology may also have some practical
purposes in non-combat situations. For instance, they might enable
robotic farming equipment to coordinate over longer distances,
serve to automatically patch a busted wi-fi zone in an office
building, or reconfigure themselves to best supply network coverage
at large events like concerts or protests.
Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, gave a presentation on how robots can easily eliminate half the workforce of the United States fairly soon.
He said that by 2042 there will be $500 desktop computers with computing power equal to the human brain. We can then put this into a robot which will have the power to do jobs that millions of people hold today. Robots can easily take over education, transportation, construction and retail jobs.
Walmart alone has over 1.2 million employees, performing easy jobs. If robots take the jobs, “a million jobs at Walmart will evaporate.”
But what about the job market?
6.5 million in construction will be gone. 16.4 million in manufacturing will be gone. Retail/wholesale will lose 20 million jobs. Drivers will lose 3 million jobs. Education to lose 2 million.
“Half the jobs in the economy right now we can see robots taking over.”
He ended with the question displayed “What if 50-million people became unemployed?” He then said “there is no doubt these jobs will be gone fairly soon.” We have to start modifying our economy to deal with the mass unemployed.
If you enjoy futuristic gadgets and evolution then this Saturn-commissioned steampunk commercial should be right up your alley (hi-def version here):
Though I'm sure it's primarily intended to wow, I enjoy the robotic take on evolution because of how it removes the emotional animal component and places the emphasis on basic form. It's very transhuman in spirit. Unfortunately the sky does not open wide to a transcendent singularity at the conclusion of the video, which would have made it super-viral among the growing singularitarian community, but I'm sure that we'll see newer, more philosophically advanced car commercials in the near-future. ;)
Last week, I explained how humans might soon be learning things from
robots. Today, I’d like to explain why robots might become a more
integral part of our lives faster than most people expect.
Yesterday, Technology Review published an interesting article
entitled: “Robots Learns to Use Tools.” What
is really intriguing about the article, which describes a new robot
called the UMass Mobile Manipulator or
UMan for short, is that the robot is employing sophisticated
algorithms to teach itself how to deal with unfamiliar objects.
One of the major barriers to date with robotics is that
programmers have had to write complicated software code to help
robots deal with almost every contingency that it might encounter.
For example, for a household robot to be effective, it needs to
recognize every item that might conceivably be in someone house –
everything from a pair of scissors to a flower vase. This is no
In the near future, however, robots need not necessarily know
how to handle every object; they merely need to learn how to deal
with that object in an appropriate fashion. Using the scissors as
example, UMan can study the device and then can tinker with the
blades until it understands how they are connected and how the
object operates. Presumably, the robot will then know that it would
be inappropriate to “run with scissors.” (cont.)
If there’s one thing a science fiction movie will guarantee you, it’s that friendly looking robots will be friendly, and evil looking robots will kill you. As we get closer and closer to an age where robots take a more important role in our lives in both the civilian and military sense, I somehow doubt the builders of military robots will follow the unspoken laws of mass storytelling. With international PR increasingly becoming more important, will military robots all be made to look like death-machines? Or will they take on a more harmless look of, let’s say, Pound Puppies?
Although the image of an army of killer puppy robots equipped with the latest artillery might cause one to smirk, it may not be too far off. Friendly-looking robots, much like friendly-looking humans, are more likely to be perceived as harmless than your standard military death-machine. WALL-E, armed with fifty pounds of C-4, can get places where the army’s latest killer robot couldn’t.
With robots continually achieving a more human look, it would make sense for the military to eventually design robots that like children instead of Terminator’s famed T-101 cyborg. And with robotics jumping in leaps and bounds all the time, suicide-ready humanoid robots are that much closer to reality.
Even if a rocket-laden robot tank could strike a lot of fear into an enemy, friendly looking robots have a greater chance of avoiding attacks as well as slipping into enemy lines. Face it, Skynet went wrong in making Arnold their model of robot — it should have been puppies.
The video you see here is of a robot made by MobileRobots.com using the MobileRanger Stereo Vision System. “MobileRanger stereovision systems are top-of-the-line instruments for measuring depth for demanding applications such as mobile robot navigation, people tracking, gesture recognition, targeting, 3D surface visualization and advanced human computer interaction.” You can see how objects at different ranges are represented by different colors (see my hand?). Very cool.
Above you see a photo from the display Boston Engineering had. What you see is a robotic fish they hope to build in the near future (sorry, no prototypes yet). I’m going to stay in contact with these guys on the project since it’s a pretty cool concept that could be built fairly quickly with the latest technology (the fact that they’re basing it off a Tuna fish is proof alone that this thing will be fast and powerful).