Robots in Our Future

By Jason Chavis

The future of robots is mere speculation, but judging from developments in recent years, the continued advancements in technology are a foregone conclusion. Robots will likely continue to impact various aspects of our lives, and scientists and philosophers continue to debate the possibilities for the human race. As artificial intelligence continues to develop, there may be a point in which robots become superior to mankind. No matter the future holds, robots will have a place in it.

Significance

Domestic robots such as the Roomba have already established themselves in the marketplace. Common household appliances such as toasters and microwaves are fitted with microprocessors, effectively making them robots in their own right. The military has begun automating many of its frontline systems. The Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial reconnaissance and attack crafts have joined ordinance disposal robots on the frontlines of combat. The future is wide open for continued exploration of these devices.

Features

Automobile factories were some of the first to implement robotics on the assembly line, performing tasks too dangerous or delicate for humans to accomplish. This has continued with whole factories beginning to be automated. IBM has instituted a "lights off" factory in Texas that is completely automated. Caterpillar has announced plans to operate robotic heavy machinery by 2021, and has already begun transferring much of their crane operations to remote-controlled robots. The medical industry has utilized robotic surgery assistants for years, most notably the Da Vinci surgical helper. With rising health care costs and the increasing needs of an aging population, hospitals and caregivers are planning vast expansion in the areas of robotics.

Types

In the future, there will be a variety of different types of robots, all possessing skills that meet the functions of their individual tasks. Humanoid robots will most likely be the least prolific, since the quest to build a being similar to man is an ongoing challenge. Scientists have developed metal alloys that respond to electric currents much like muscles, making the possibilities for more human-like robots within our grasp. In addition, Honda's Asimo robot prototype may further our understanding of the use for humanoid robots. Modular robots are small technological constructs that can assemble themselves into various patterns to better function when performing a specific task. This will allow a robot to be able to perform a variety of jobs without the necessity of specialization. Examples of this include the self-replicating robots, Dr. John Hall's Utility Fog and the snake-like M-Tran.Entertainment robots will be the most profitable in the near future. Toys used for education and play are predicted to dominate the market, and the expansion of robotics used for sports has been advanced with the creation of the RoboCup soccer challenge and the success of such TV programs as "Robot Wars."

Misconceptions

All inventions and applications in human history have been manufactured by necessity or for profit. Guaranteeing any direction of development for robotics in the future is a lost cause, as the world changes daily. It's assumed that the continued expansion of robotics within the workplace will continue, possibly at the cost of many service and manufacturing jobs. The impact on the economy is unknown, and can affect the ultimate implementation of robotics in a variety of aspects. Some scientists predict that by the middle of the twenty-first century, robots will be working in agriculture, medicine and domestic care. However, it is also known that the technology to successfully deliver quality robots to these markets is still lacking, although many believe we are in the early stages of developing the platforms needed to achieve these goals.

Theories/Speculation

One concern for scientists and those developing robotic technology, computers and artificial intelligence is the theory of the technological singularity. It is possible that there will be a point in the future when robots will have the ability to self-improve themselves, thereby gaining true artificial intelligence. This will make robots or computers more advanced than human beings, which in theory will allow the machines to conceive of new advancements that people will be unable to comprehend. The impact on humanity from the singularity is unknown, although theories range from a new era of utopian bliss to the destruction of the human population.