Welcome to Robot Watch, a website with a mission statement to keep an eye on our automated future.
- The other eye is split between news from the present and the highlights from technology’s (sometimes) glorious past.
We’ll look at the impact of automation on economics and society at large and the ongoing battle between man and robot.
- We’ll catch up on robots in the movies and on TV.
- We even have a shop where you can buy robot kits and books.
But why automation, and why now?
Automation has been a constant feature of society since the industrial revolution began in England more than 200 years ago.
- It’s generally a story of ever-increasing speed, but what makes today different?
We stand on the cusp of changes that could well be different from what’s gone before, because of three major technologies.
Over the past 50 years, Moore’s Law – the constant doubling in price-performancebang for your buck of microchips – has delivered ever more powerful computers.
- The smartphones in every pocket today have more power than the supercomputers of my youth, and many times the power needed to put men on the moon during my childhood.
Increasingly this power is being used to make machines learn about the world around them.
- Things we take for granted, like understanding language and voice, and being able to recognise objects, are only now becoming available to the machines.
Machine learning offers the promise not only of delivering these senses, but also of computers extracting information themselves, from piles of data too large for humans to digest.
- And when one machine learns, so do all the machines like it.
That’s down to the second factor – networking.
- The world is now flooded with radio waves carrying conversations between all manner of devices.
- Up in the sky, satellites work together to identify our location on the planet.
- More importantly, this information has been declassified and made available to a $10 chip inside our phones.
The internet of today is a big library of information (and a big shopping mall of stuff).
- But the internet of tomorrow will see all the things in the home – and in the workplace – connected together and talking to each other.
The third leg of the stool is robots.
Machines don’t just find seeing and talking difficult, they have trouble walking, too.
- The robots of today are industrial – basically static arms that can do one thing in one place.
- Locked in steel cages for human safety, a conveyor belt brings them an endless river of items to act upon.
That’s great in so far as it means less repetitive work for humans.
But the robots of tomorrow will be all-terrain, multi-function models capable of co-existing and interacting with people.
- And they will be social, learning machines.
- They will recognise your face, and know about your life in order to help you.
And eventually they will be able to do everything that a person can.
This possible revolution should overwhelmingly work for the good of mankind. But there are dangers too.
If we put aside for a moment “the singularity” – the moment when the machines are finally smarter than us and decide to take over, as immortalised in the Terminator movies – the chief danger is economic.
The dominant economic system for the past few hundred years, and since the industrial revolution in particular, has been capitalism.
- This is an uneasy alliance between capital (deferred consumption – money – saved from the past) and labour – people to do work.
- To date, increasing automation has been associated with increasing prosperity.
As machinery has evolved along the way, jobs have disappeared (think agriculture in particular) and more sophisticated jobs have emerged to replace them (first industrial factories and then later the service industries).
- There is short-term disruption and unemployment, but not for long.
- Over time, people have grown richer.
But what happens when we don’t need labour, and almost all the work can be done by robots? How will the money be shared out, both within and between nations?
- Will capitalism still function under these conditions?
Perhaps some new form of work that machines can’t handle will emerge. Perhaps not.
- We don’t know exactly where we are headed. But it should be fun to watch.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||⇧||bang for your buck|