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Robots rapidly advancing from assistants, to becoming our close companions to replacing us and merging with us as Robot-human hybrids

A robot, is any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner. A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer—capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. A robot can be guided by an external control device, or the control may be embedded within.

 

The robots tend to possess some or all of the following abilities and functions: accept electronic programming, process data or physical perceptions electronically, operate autonomously to some degree, move around, operate physical parts of itself or physical processes, sense and manipulate their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior, especially behavior which mimics humans or other animals.

 

The robot revolution has arrived and they have become our invaluable assistants in factories, surgery, space exploration, agriculture, bomb disposal, and construction. Over the last few decades, robots have rapidly grown from specialized devices developed for select industry applications to household items.

 

Robots are also appearing in our hospitals, promising to help us fight the COVID-19 pandemic and perform other healthcare tasks in safer and more efficient ways. And NASA just landed the Perseverance rover on Mars, with an autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity attached to its belly.

 

The branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing is robotics.

 

Service Robots assisting humans

They have invaded our lives helping us with everything from vacuuming, cutting grass, home security, and grocery shopping to driving cars and booking appointments. Robotics in personal and domestic applications has experienced strong global growth from floor cleaning robots, robo-mowers and robots for edutainment. Robots that deliver essential items, entertain and inform, or teach your kids are becoming more common.

 

Service robots of iRobot Corporation of Bedford, Massachusetts, have robots for domestic cleaning. China says it is developing a robotic system to cook meals and then deliver the food to the customer’s table; while Momentum Machines of California say it has created a “smart restaurants” robotic system that not only takes the order but then can create 360 gourmet burgers an hour.

 

Unlike their manufacturing ancestors, service robots must operate in offices, homes, hospitals, and warehouses—all of which are nonengineered environments in the real world. This is being enabled by their becoming more autonomous, they can now explore and build a model of their world, make plans for achieving targeted goals based on that model, and deal with changes and exceptions so as to respond appropriately.

 

The base technology building blocks for robots – sensors, open source robotic operating system (ROS), 3D printing, AI software – are now sophisticated and inexpensive enough to build robots that work safely around people, says  Steve Cousins  founder and CEO of Savioke, which develops and deploys autonomous robots. But safety is only a piece of the puzzle when designing robots that live and work in human environment. The overall design – size, shape, sounds, movement, and personality – are critical to a robot’s success if robots are to be accepted and trusted by humans.

 

Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) systems are rapidly evolving over the years and are becoming our partners in our homes and office and machines that can learn, make decisions and automate tasks are already part of our lives.

 

They have also started to replace us like for example in Chengdu, China, Foxconn, a company making Apple and other electronics, has just built a factory run entirely run by robots. South Korean giant LG Electronics is the latest company that is planning to sell robots to solve tasks currently completed by humans.

 

A new study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that between 400 million and 800 million of today’s jobs will be automated by 2030. The study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute found that up to one-fifth of the global work force will be affected. It said one-third of the workforce in richer nations like Germany and the US may need to retrain for other jobs. Machine operators and food workers will be hit hardest, the report says. Poorer countries that have less money to invest in automation will not be affected as much, according to McKinsey.

 

“A lot of jobs disappeared with the advent of the automobile,” CASBS director Margaret Levi said. “We don’t see the need for as many blacksmiths as we once did.” Levi noted some types of jobs for which society may need robots, because people will not take the positions on. These undesirable roles typically involve difficult or dangerous physical labor. Looking to the future, Levi cited the need for infrastructure development, where robots could play a critical part — already, machines are used to navigate mines and sewers.

 

In defence and security, they have automated our dull, dirty and dangerous jobs and free humans to focus on higher-value activities. Militaries are also planning to replace soldiers with robots.  “We’re just around the corner from a world with no drivers,” said Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations. “Machines are going to be driving us. What are we going to do with the sailors who were trained to drive? We have to be out in front of that problem and get them new skills and the technology to teach them new skills.”

Finally in the future the robots are predicted to become integrated with humans. Kurzweil predicts that humans will become hybrids in the 2030s. That means our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where there will be thousands of computers, and those computers will augment our existing intelligence. He said the brain will connect via nanobots — tiny robots made from DNA strands.  Elon Musk in one of his latest interviews speculates that in the nearest time humans should merge with artificial intelligence and create a new form of interaction interface.

 

Future robots to replace the human workers

The latest trend is robots completely replacing humans, like driverless vehicles will soon allow you to kick back, listen to music, have a cup of coffee, and stop wherever you need to along the way, stay productive in transit with connections to the Internet, make phone calls, and even watch a movie or two. Uber, along with most of the major car manufacturers and Google, is already looking beyond a rival service to one that gets rid of the driver altogether.

 

South Korean giant LG Electronics is the latest company that is planning to sell robots to solve tasks currently completed by humans. The first one is a server robot that can deliver food and drinks to customers at hotels and airport lounges. It can essentially replace the work done by the waitstaff and be able to do it around the clock. Second is a porter robot that can handle check-in and check-out services at hotels and carry luggage to rooms. The hotel industry is already experimenting with replacing humans with machines. For example, there are hotels in Japan that are staffed by robots. Finally, LG’s third new robot is made to work with customers at a supermarket, telling them the price of products and then guiding them through the aisles.

 

The first robot-only factory is being built in China’s Dongguan factory city. The factory, owned by Sehnzhen Evenwin Precision Technology, aims to reduce the current workforce of 1,800 by 90%, according to Chen Zingui, chairman of the board. But Chinese ambitions for a robot workforce go much further. Since September last year, a total of 505 factories across Dongguan have invested 4.2bn yuan (£430m) in robots, aiming to replace more than 30,000 workers, according to the Dongguan Economy and Information Technology Bureau. Foxconn, maker of electronic devices such as Apple’s iPhone, also plans a robot army although its ambitions are slightly more modest – aiming for a 30% robot workforce in the next five years.

 

Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2025, up to a quarter of jobs will be replaced by either smart software or robots, while a study from Oxford University has suggested that 35% of existing UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years. We have been losing physical labor jobs for years due to automation. Now we’re losing intellectual jobs. “Employers love robots,” Yampolskiy Yampolskiy, director of the Cyber Security Laboratory at the University of Louisville said. “You don’t have to deal with sick days, vacation, sexual harassment, 401k. There’s a good chance a lot of us will be out of jobs.”

 

Experts have expressed concerns that soon robots shall replace human, eliminating the livelihoods of many. “More and more computer-guided automation is creeping into everything from manufacturing to decision making,” says Lipson an engineering professor at Cornell. In the last two years alone, he says, the development of so-called deep learning has triggered a revolution in artificial intelligence, and 3-D printing has begun to change industrial production processes.

 

“For a long time the common understanding was that technology was destroying jobs but also creating new and better ones,” says Lipson. “Now the evidence is that technology is destroying jobs and indeed creating new and better ones but also fewer ones. It is something we as technologists need to start thinking about.”

 

Erik Brynjolfsson’s, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator and coauthor Andrew McAfee believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States. And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries.

 

MIT academics foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as these powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine. Robots could be trained in specific professions and copied at will, thus replacing most human capital in the world, causing potentially great economic disruption. Economic collapse may follow from mass unemployment as humans are replaced by copyable human capital. Even Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates during a February interview with Quartz magazine, he argued robots should pay taxes. If millions of human jobs disappear due to robots, he warned, so will the various taxes paid by those human workers, depleting government coffers for social programs.

 

Social Robots as Human Partners

In the future robots could be in the home, where they can help the elderly and disabled people, enabled by advances in autonomy, haptics, mobile manipulation, actuation, and soft robotics. From assisting us to new trend is of “social robotics”, where robots are programmed to act as partners to humans. When autonomous robots are augumented with the ability to communicate with, cooperate with, and learn from people these classes of autonomous robots are called as social robots.

 

Breazeal, robotics researcher and professor at the MIT Media Lab, has unveiled “the world’s first family robot.” Called Jibo The robot, which will cost around $500 when it’s released, will have a range of abilities that will hopefully make it the perfect companion to have around the house — such as telling stories to kids, automatically taking photos when you pose, easy messaging and video calling, providing reminders for calendar entries, and companionship through emotional interaction.

 

The Kibo Robot Project originally formed from collaboration between the University of Tokyo, Toyota, Robo Garage and Dentsu, developed, two identical humanoid robots – Kirobo and Mirata , each featuring voice and facial recognition, as well as natural language processing to allow them to understand and communicate with humans. After a period of tests and experiments, one of the robots was sent up to join Japanese astronaut Wakata Koichi aboard the ISS performing the role of companion.

 

As robots working around and interacting with humans become more and more common, it’s critical that people trust and feel comfortable around them, and that the robots don’t intimidate or frighten them in any way, says Steve Cousins. Robots that gain widescale acceptance need to be approachable, easy to use, non-threatening, and aligned with specific cultural norms. In Japan, for instance, people prefer anthropomorphic robots, whereas Americans find robots that look too human “creepy”. That’s why our design team went to great lengths to incorporate human psychological principles like empathy and emotional connection in Relay’s DNA.

 

European researchers are designing “empathic robotic tutors”.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently said that “Robots will become omnipresent in our lives in a good way.” Robots ―will be able to see, act, speak, manage natural language and have intelligence, and our relationship with them will have become more constant and commonplace. Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, who is considered by some to be the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) visionary, has predicted that in 15 years’ time computers will be more intelligent than we are and will be able to understand what we say, learn from experience, make jokes, tell stories and even flirt. Robots will become our close friends; we will have emotional and even intimate interactions, and even pleasurable personal interactions through sexual robots currently being designed.

 

As digital assistants become ubiquitous, and gain more trust they can change our behaviour towards them and people starting to treat them as confidants, or even as friends and therapists. This can even affect our emotions, our real friendships and social behavior ending up transforming human society, according to experts. Kathleen Richardson, an anthropologist at De Montfort University in the U.K., worries a lot about the latter question. As the director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots—and, yes, sex robots are enough of an incipient phenomenon that a campaign against them isn’t entirely premature—she warns that they will be dehumanizing and could lead users to retreat from real intimacy. We might even progress from treating robots as instruments for sexual gratification to treating other people that way. Other observers have suggested that robots could radically improve sex between humans.

 

Human-Robot hybrids

Suzanne Gildert is co-founder and chief scientific officer of Kindred AI  predicts  a category of AI/human hybrids imbued with both the physical features and intellectual abilities of people. As these AI/human hybrids proliferate, so will the ethical and legal questions surrounding them, she said. Should hybrids be allowed to make mistakes like people or should they be programmed with the goal of always being perfect?

 

“Robots fundamentally have to make mistakes in order to learn,” Gildert said. “We must expect and accept this. We have to allow them to have this childlike phase as they learn and grow.” Kurzweil predicts that humans will become hybrids in the 2030s. That means our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where there will be thousands of computers, and those computers will augment our existing intelligence. He said the brain will connect via nanobots — tiny robots made from DNA strands.

 

“Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking,” he said. The bigger and more complex the cloud, the more advanced our thinking. By the time we get to the late 2030s or the early 2040s, Kurzweil believes our thinking will be predominately non-biological.

 

Professor Yuval Noah Harari, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI), predicts a radical evolution could take place within the next two centuries – that would allow humans to avoid deadly diseases and enjoy almost limitless lives. The 39-year-old, who also studied at Oxford University, argues human beings are likely to merge themselves with computer parts and “will be as different from today’s humans as chimps are now from us”.

 

However, Prof. Harari claims such evolutionary changes would only benefit the wealthiest in society, widening the gap between rich and poor and leaving those in poverty to die out. He said: “I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic. “It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking.”

 

 

References and resources also include:

https://www.itbusiness.ca/news/top-canadian-researcher-says-ai-robots-deserve-human-rights/95730

https://www.roboticstomorrow.com/article/2017/03/trends-in-service-robots/9610

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/robots-human-relationships/583204/

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/579967/Rich-immortal-CYBORGS-poor-die-out-200-years-historian-claims?fbclid=IwAR1wAabgwUMZHKMepUgHOhFS5SQIr7sN1p52S5EFSrkRGOTAom3IdpsjMmk

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