The Robots are Coming

Dr. Tim Johnson, author of Finding a Job in Tough Times, viewed a video featuring Atlas, the Boston Dynamics humanoid robot, doing tumbling exercises and read an article in Electron Design magazine about the great diversity of robots available.  I saw hundreds when I visited robots at the IEEE site: www.robots.ieee.org!  There seemed to be no end to robots and what they can do but how do humans fit into the equation?

Robots have been around for some time and have occupied the human mind through imagination in literature or movies; but robots are most familiar on an assembly line.  They either perform human-assistance in tasks that are repetitive or tasks that provide human-assistance in a human-controlled environment.

In the first case, consider the assembly-line manner which requires manipulation of a product or placing/fasten/packing products in an orderly fashion as components reach a specific location in their build.  The second case finds human and robots working together under direct human supervision, a task like driving a car were we to think of a car as a robot.  Neither of these cases would constitute a role that could be considered autonomous (acting alone and independent).

Autonomous robots would be capable of responding to situations in a human manner which requires accessing the situation by senses such as, vision, hearing, and/or touch, then thinks of a manner to respond and change the situation that a human programmer who wrote the instructions believes would correct/change the situation. Some additional aspects: human tasks are isolated in time and/or location and unique applications of human traits such as memory and imagination (visualization of a future state) to solve tasks.

A computer operates on instructions to manipulate data, but a robot incorporates this aspect with sensory inputs and can manipulate/move/change real world objects by selecting which set of instructions to achieve a goal.  There are more aspects of a robotic skillsets that mimic human traits but that would require another article or perhaps a semester course to consider as a philosophy major?

The questions to ask yourself is whether you are going to be the person replaced by a robot OR are you going to be the one who installs, repairs, maintains, programs, or designs the robot?  OMG, Mr. Robot is a bit needy.  Look at all a robot entails in this short list.  We’re not even talking about supplying the power, infrastructure, and marketing to support robots.  It’s huge.

I believe robots are going to get to be the largest employer of humans there ever was.  The phone company at one time was one such employer under AT&T and it was merely a massive switch transmitting voice over wires (now fiber and wireless) covering the world.  Composer Phillip Glass wrote an absorbing score for a 1982 movie called Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance, with director Godfrey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke that addressed this aspect of the telephone.  Should you choose to view this movie upon the modern derivative, your smart phone, provides an interesting perspective on modern life.

If we point to Gutenberg’s printing press as the first robot, printers began producing duplicates in 1452 but his simple duplicating machine was a melding of a wine press and movable wooden block characters used by the Chinese as far back as 862 to produce printed matter.  The machines used to produce newsprint today are larger than freight cars on trains.  But you could say in a humorous manner that drink is the source of the newsprint by which you read this article.

In summary, robots have been coming for some time.  Humans invented robots to help solve tasks and in return the robot provides employment for humankind.  If you were to bring Atlas along to your exercise class, he could do the workout for you.

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