A common theme in science-fiction and dystopian novels is that robots will eventually grow intelligent enough to displace human labor--and, indeed, a large swath of the population believes this to be so. With cars well on their way to autonomy and increasingly better artificial intelligence, it certainly seems to be reality.
But what if the future really is that humans and robots work together?
For some manufacturers, this is the real future. Denmark-based Universal Robots' president Jürgen von Hollen, whose company has special focus in "collaborating robots" (i.e., robots that work with humans rather than independently, was quoted as saying last year, "The robotics market is growing unchanged 10 to 15 percent year on year, and the niche area of collaborating robots is even growing a whopping 70 percent."
Right now, von Hollen's assessment of the robotics market seems right on point. Take, for instance, Savioke's Dash, who acts almost as a robotic servant at various hotels across the world. You can see Dash in action in the video below:
Dash definitely has a good degree of autonomy--he can navigate the hotel by himself and knows when a guest has made a request for an item. Yet, he still requires some human ingenuity to keep him going. Of course, he can't retrieve items himself (yet), and on top of it all, he can't extricate himself from some different sticky situations. For instance, if he gets stuck behind, say, a cleaning cart, he can't move it by himself; instead, he has to send out a request to a human operator to manually navigate his way around it.
This is an expensive example of how we're currently using robots in a commercial environment, but even take LG's newly unveiled robot smart hub, CLOi. CLOi (pronounced "Chloe") is a master control, of sorts, for all the smart home gadgets you have lying around your house, but this little bot doesn't provide any relevant information at certain times, nor does it sense changes in the environment and adjust things automatically. It still requires human interaction to prompt it to do various tasks.
CLOi is more of a glorified smart hub than robot, but even something like Aeolus, another robot unveiled at CES this past week, has limited learning capabilities. It can grab things for you and clean your house, but on it's own, it can essentially learn patterns of where things go. There's no intuitive analyzation of the environment around it.
Now, don't get me wrong, robots will likely get there...eventually. But are our jobs really threatened by their continual evolution? As I wrote in a previous blog post, probably not. And even if they are, the time it will take for such robots to even be put to mass use (i.e., they get a lot cheaper) will be a while.
So, what happens? As von Hollens believes, I see the world moving towards a collaborative environment of humans and robots, which will ultimately lead to greater productivity. Von Hollens states, "But what's important for us to emphasize is that we use robots as tools. We believe that people have their strengths, and so do robots. If you combine the two sides, one plus one doesn't equal two, but rather three. The robot as a tool and collaborating with people - what you get is a completely new working environment."
Perhaps the future will hold a world that does not require human labor. Right now, though, it looks like we'll be sticking around for a while--but we better be prepared to work with our robotic friends.
I like talking about sci-fi, Star Wars, and where the two meet real life. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my other "Real Life Sci-fi" blog posts here.
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!