Several years ago, the concept of robotics or artificial intelligence (AI) was mere fiction. Then, we would talk about robots and what they were able to do. We relished ourselves in the futuristic movies and books that we saw about such concepts. Well, today, “Sci-Fi” (i.e., Science-Fiction) has become “Sci-Re” (i.e., Science-Reality). We are living in an age where fiction has become a reality—these are fascinating times to say the very least. We don’t just talk about robotics. We no longer just study about robotics. We don’t solely fantasize about robots or AI. We are now living in the age and reality of it all. We are in the early stages of the Sci-Re age—we are living in the new era of the AI. Technology is evolving and materializing right before our very eyes as the robotic and AI touches our lives in a new way.
From time to time, more and more stories pop-up about people who have been given another chance to lead full, productive lives despite their disabilities because of the improvements on the technology of robotics. Recently, the video of a little girl, Tilly Lockey, who got robotic/bionic arms in place of her polio meningitis-damaged hands flooded the Internet. Or the story of Melissa Loomis, who got her right hand amputated after she was lethally infected via a raccoon bite and became the first to test out the proprietary neuro-prosthetic arm being developed by the John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab—an astounding feat and technological breakthrough (NB. Check out the YouTube video below). Several other such videos have also surfaced online, showing how robotics have helped to change lives for good. It is no longer a figment of one’s imagination. We can still go crazy with our imaginations, but the truth is that we are in the thick of the robotic or AI revolution.
The Mind-Controlled Bionic Arm with a Sense of Touch; Source: Motherboard
“Robots are interesting because they exist as a real technology that you can really study – you can get a degree in robotics—and they also have all this pop-culture real estate that they take up in people’s minds.” — Daniel H. Wilson
Another key example of the positive impact of robotics is in the army, where soldiers risk their lives and limbs to keep their countries safe. Members of all branches of the United States (US) Military (e.g., Army, Airforce, Navy, Marines, etc.) no longer must live as amputees—thanks to the advances in robotics technology. They are grateful for the opportunity to live life again despite their disabilities, with the aid of a prosthetic limb. What Robotics has done is to restore confidence and give back to the veterans and victims of accidents the ability to carry on with their lives without being dependent on others. Science and technology are advancing by the day—case in point is the story of Melissa Loomis as we saw in the YouTube video above. The study of robotics is changing lives at warp speed—I can only wonder what the future holds.
The power of the human imagination and intellect is indeed vast. The Homo sapiens race has proven time and time again that they are able to subdue the impossible. We have seen humans dream; we have seen humans turn their visions into reality. The power of the human-encephalic bundles has shown over the centuries of the ability of man to achieve the seemingly impossible task. Via innovation, man is once again turning fiction into actuality via the advent of the robotic age—the AI age, the Sci-Re age. Again, technology scores one point in the endless curiosity into the extent of its reach. What is the future of robotics in this world of men?
“Robotics, manufacturing, medicine, farming, energy—all will be pushed to and beyond their limits and, by so doing, will advance at speeds far faster than without the impetus and challenge of opening a frontier – thus also raising the odds of survival in our favor.” — Rick Tumlinson
In simple terms, if we have control over these things, robotics will help improve our lives a whole lot. Work can be done a lot faster and with a lot more productivity and efficiency while eschewing the variations that arise due to human error. Life-threatening tasks need not have human casualties anymore. For instance, we are in an age where drones are now used in place of human beings as seen in the various militaries of the developed world (e.g., the US Military). The agricultural sector is witnessing the benefits of AI as robots are deployed to farms to plant, water, maintain, and harvest crops.
Transportation will also be a lot more enhanced in an age of AI. Also, we have seen companies like Amazon, testing the use of drones in their supply chain and logistic strategies. As a matter of fact, on August 29, 2020, Amazon Prime Air received its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 135 air carrier certificate. They can now use “unmanned aircraft systems,” that is, UAS, for delivery products to their customers. In warehouse operations, robotic technologies are being produced for autonomous yard operations. Robots are also being built for last-mile operations
We have seen companies like Microsoft extensively researching and deploying several AI operating systems and technologies. Some Microsoft AI initiatives are Premonition, Trove, Cortana, etc. In the health sector, we can already witness the wonders of these machines and how they are changing the narrative by giving people renewed hope. The revolution is immense, and the transformations are mind-blowing.
However, there are still some concerns as to the potential negative impacts of a world that is even more dependent on machines than it already is. Recently, with the introduction of lifelike sex dolls, an alarm has been raised as to the long-term effects. Will humans get to a point where we prefer being with machines than our fellow human beings? Only time will tell. Many naysayers also point to the potential dangers of AI taking on a life of its own and possibly becoming a threat to humanity. Will there be a robotic invasion? Could Sci-Fi become Sci-Re on this note? Anything is possible. Other experts have downplayed this possibility, claiming that if humans control the switch, we will always be the masters. Is this response an oversimplification of the problem? Should we be worried about what the future of humanity would be with the continued dependence on robotics and AI? It might be worth taking into consideration.
“Technology and robotics are advancing and will reduce the need for workers in the future.” — Jan C. Ting
In an interview, Jing Bing Zhang, Research Director of Worldwide Robotics at International Data Corporation (IDC) Asia/Pacific, shared top predictions and significant robotic trends which will present opportunities and challenges to respective organizations by 2017 and beyond as follows:
First, the need for robotics regulations will arise. Following the continued expression of the autonomy of robots, there will be the need to put rules in place to check the activities of these robots because, believe it or not, people are scared about the possibility of robots taking over. Robots are principled. If they feel that the human element is the anomaly, they will work to eliminate the variation—at least that would be their programming.
Second, there will be an evolution in the competitive landscape. By this, we mean that there will be a competition were human workers would have to work harder to try and beat the robotic workforce to jobs which they both can handle. Should robots be more efficient, which is more likely, it is sad to say that a lot of people will be out of a job very quickly. Hence, it is bound to be a very competitive landscape in the future between the human element and AI. Who wins—man or AI? Time will tell.
Third, there will be an increased talent crunch. In the work landscape, organizations must always deal with the deficiencies of their human employees. Many occasions arise that spell human as unadaptable. Management will usually have to deal with the psycho-social and physical variations that the human element brings to the workforce. On the flip side of the coin, robots are adaptive and can evolve in their intelligent quotient (IQ)—they’d easily knock out their human counterparts in jobs which require specific talents. The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is defined by efficiency, productivity, and quality.
Fourth, there will be a growth in the demand for Robotics-As-A-Service (RaaS). According to Zhang, 30 percent of commercial service robotic applications will be in the form of a RaaS business model by 2019. RaaS is a new business model where robots are offered as a service rather than as a product to manage an organization’s most manual, mundane repetitive, or hazardous tasks across multiple locations.
Fifth, the dawn of the Intelligent RoboNet will come upon us to compete with the human Internet. This will be in the form of a connected mesh of shared intelligence and will result in a 200 percent improvement in the operational efficiency of robots. Could a RoboNet future be the new wave of globalized networking? We shall see what the future holds.
In summary, the future of robots in the future of man is a highly competitive one, and many are expressing fears of a violent overthrow of power—an alarm, most inspired by Sci-Fi and futuristic movies. There will be advancements in health, transportation, supply chain, logistics, construction, energy, economy, and scientific research and there may be setbacks in human value for labor. Whichever the case, the topic of robotic technology is a very delicate subject. However, all signs point that the future of man is AI.