I rarely start off posts with personal anecdotes and, when I do, they are brief: Last night, I happened upon the movie “I, Robot” before I went to bed. It struck me that at least one of the big set pieces in the film – the battle between Will Smith and the robots in the tunnel – shows how far the general perception of robotics has come in the 10 years since it was released.
The scene starts with Smith getting into the driver’s seat but, instead of driving, taking out some files to read. The car drove itself. That certainly isn’t the most exciting thing about the film – which is terrific, if you haven’t seen it – but suggests that the director knew what was coming.
It also led me to think of how robotics has inexorably become a normal part of our culture. Cars indeed are driving themselves – and more safely than the general population. Robotics, which go hand-in-glove with advanced telecommunications, is making great strides in public consciousness.
ZDNet’s Rachel King reported on a robotics panel presented this week by the Commonwealth Club. Most of her report focuses on drones, another form of robotics. A couple of important things were stated or implied in the piece. Drones, due to their use against our enemies in the Mideast, have become high profile very quickly. Thus, the process of hunting down and presumably destroying an enemy – something that usually is done by a human – is being performed very publicly by machines. This further primes the pump for a more general acceptance of the reality that robots are part of our world.
But not all robots are alike. Naman Muley, a columnist for Technician Online, offers an interesting take on precisely what is happening in this world of robotics. He describes three phases: human-like androids like the little fellows who created so much entertaining trouble in the movie, swarms of small robots that work together to achieve a goal and, most immediately, small bits of robot-like intelligence that are integrated into existing elements. The last category will be the first to gain traction, he writes:
A curious way to understand these is to look at them as smaller functional units of the full-grown robot. The reason these shall permeate the human world faster is the age-old phenomena of evolution and growth. In this case, it isn’t the growth of the machine, but the growth of the human intelligence to produce such robots. We must learn by breaking the complex Asimovian robot into smaller parts. First we must create and inculcate the smaller functional units and then go on to the more complex assimilations of these units.
While it doesn’t fit snugly into the telecommunications and IT worlds that IT Business Edge generally covers, there is an important contextual element to any consideration of the rise of robots: Often, robots take jobs from humans. SFGate mentions some of these. Another example is an automobile assembly line. What was done decades ago by a team of workers now is done by one big machine.
That transition is well under way. Indeed, it may be one of the subtle drivers of the high unemployment rate: Many jobs have been taken over by entities that have silicon instead of blood. Robotics is already a big part of modern life. Its influence will grow bigger, and the forms it takes will grow stranger, over time.