Robotics is the technology that involves the physical embodiment of artificial intelligence in robots, which are machines that substitute for humans, and replicate human actions. George Devol dropped out of school before he got to college to become a self-taught genius inventor who, in 1954, invented the world’s first robot.
The initial robots were really programmed arms, but now there are many versions of bipedal robots, which are becoming increasingly lifelike with soft ‘skins’, considerable dexterity, and programming that enables them to carry on limited conversations. Development is ongoing to add social intelligence, such as reading body language, and recognizing and expressing (but not feeling) emotions.
Robots are being used in a wide range of situations, especially those where it would be dangerous for humans. In addition to manufacturing and warehousing, robots are used in:
- Almost every area of agriculture
- The military (soldiers, bomb disposal)
- Construction (painting, carpentry, home-building, security guards)
- Food services (preparation, service, delivery)
- Personal services (hairdressing, teaching, elder care, sign language interpretation)
- Disaster management (decommissioning nuclear facilities)
A recent and interim approach is ‘cobots’, which are robots working alongside humans. Robotics technology is being used to create powered exoskeletons, which are worn by humans to increase their natural capabilities. (They are worn by construction workers to increase their upper body strength, and by people, who have lost the use of their legs, to walk.) Perhaps the most sobering innovation is robots teaching other robots!
Replacement of humans by robots is the most obvious form of job loss. Current manufacturing employment in the US is estimated to be 8 million less than if robots were not used. A study estimated that one robot replaces over 6 workers (and that does not include the reduction in management and employment services). The UK is expected to lose 15 million jobs to automation, much of which will be achieved using robots.
The fear expressed by many is that robots will become so powerful that they will decide there is no further need for fallible (stupid?) humans. A more likely eventuality is that the evolution of robots and humans will merge into the science fiction cyborgs. The intelligence and physical capabilities of robots will evolve beyond that of current humans (the Singularity, forecast to occur in the 2040s). But while that is happening, the ability of humans to access AI via the internet (with wireless links to frontal cortices) will expand human intelligence, and the same science used to create robots will be used to improve humans’ physical abilities (with augmented limbs and senses).
Besides manufacturing, two industries particularly impacted by robotics are medicine and retail. The associated robotic technologies warrant separate pages.
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Machines replacing humans (Robotics/Home – 2018-04 – John Wong)
UK farmers can use this soft robot to help with crop picking (Robotics/Farmwork – 2018-03 – ZDNet)
Use of robotics to handle labor shortage on the farm (Robotics/Farmwork & Bees – 2018-03 – TechRepublic)
Robots hit record shipments in 2017 with continued demand growth in several industries (Robotics – 2018-02 – ZDNet)
Using robots to develop drought-resistant corn crops (Robotics – 2018-01 – ZDNet)