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Robots: Spotlight on the hidden face of automation

Posted: 18 May 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Alphabet  Google  automation  robot  Boston Dynamics 

Robots have been invading our movie screens every time we watch a sci-fi movie. The question is, are we actually ready to have this kind of technology pervade human society?

I recently saw a video about the newest robotics capabilities and it gave me an eerie feeling. It showed robots from Boston Dynamics trudging through the snow and lifting and carrying, all on two legs. I cannot stop imagining a world where these robots acquired super intelligence and are fighting a war against the humans to take over the world like they did in the movie Terminator 4 Salvation. Now, Google-parent Alphabet has listed the company for sale, and I cannot help speculating that I was not alone in this eerie feeling.

I think these robots are cool. There's a caveat: they need to be under complete control with an easy way to disable them as they put to use to help humans in whatever mundane tasks desired. I think of automation, to a certain extent, as I would a knife. It can be used to harm people or as a productive tool to cut a loaf of bread. It all depends on the user. You can't blame the knife. We certainly wouldn't want to do without this important tool.

Of course, many more tools like the knives have taken a prominent place in our lives and as humans we have figured out ways to not just survive but thrive with these technologies by leveraging them to our benefit. (You can consider nuclear power as another example.) As human beings, we have a decent track record at succeeding in these efforts. On the other hand, there have been exceptions. I'm thinking of long-ranging nuclear events such as disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as examples.

However, another important question remains over and above these concerns: How will automation impact our lives economically? As we rush to innovation in an effort to make things hyper efficient and hyper productive, we need to consider the impact on people. We need to look at ways to employ the people who have been eliminated from the workforce by automation.

The invention of the PC, along with word processing, email and spreadsheet applications, added plenty of efficiency to offices. It also meant that most people didn't need a personal secretary any more. Instead, everyone did his or her own correspondence and such. What happened to all the secretaries and mail carriers that were eliminated from the work force?

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