With the release of I ROBOT, one is immediately reminded of Professor Ken Warwick, and the research or experiments that he was involved in. His chip implant in 1998 was the source of some curiosity and debate. His building was retro-wired to interact with his movement or position within it. Doors could open and lights were configured to illuminate his journey throughout. So, his environmental control was somewhat extended, in this case to the limits, or within the perimeter of a building. His influence was increased. It was more about Cyborgs though, which is a robot and a human, in one or many configurations.
We’ve all seen the capabilities of robots, some being used for rugged forklift duties and warehouse housekeeping. Various sensory equipment made it possible. The modern automobile, is a simple or common example of automation, from welding tasks to its’ final colour scheme. In as far as possible, direct human manipulation must be removed. Whether we like it or not, we are too expensive to maintain, for manual or repetitive tasks anyway. The robot has few harassment and injury issues. The injury still happens but it more electro-mechanical and less emotional. H.R. or human resources departments tend to ignore robotic procedures because, as the name would suggest, they have no business with non-humans regardless of output. Where predictive and preventative maintenance policies are enforced, down time is decreased, with no sympathy for human conditions. Christmas holidays and other human conditions or situations, including birthdays, births, deaths, anniversaries, general and specific maladies, are essentially removed from production schedules.
It doesn’t mean that we are becoming dispensable, but rather our skills must be upgraded to compliment and implement different technologies.
The very first robot that I saw was a welder, or specifically, a robotic CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) welder. While local unions were not happy about its’ use, it was explained to them than if uptake was not allowed, then any competitive edge would be lost. They agreed. Twenty years later, such robots are fully accepted as nobody wants to do such repetitive work. Such personnel are moved above the relatively mundane duties of the welder. Not that welding jobs are easy or in any way petty, and in fact, are jobs that must be done right. Human welders are entirely necessary for one-off jobs, where commerce determines, and can be often be better as conditions vary.
Robots can now ascend and descend stairs, which is difficult enough. Maintaining balance with the centre of gravity ever changing is the primary obstacle. We didn’t get bumps on our heads solely because we were young, and having to learn such a skill at ten years of age, wouldn’t make it much easier. Action, reaction, assessment times, and motor control running together, applies to us as much as a metallic man or woman, if token genders should be assigned.
Some believe that any real intelligence advances can only occur if the machine can think for itself, in a similar way that we aspire to. This word processor makes a reasonable attempt. Of course, there is rarely a need for autonomous thought in a production environment, and the simpler the better. While arms, hydraulic, pneumatic or electric, depending on it’s application or desired action, carry out duties to precise tolerances, there is no special reason for them to learn any thing more than that.
Surgeons can perform operations from remote locations, which is, in itself, fantastic. Jet lag and travel time can be forgotten. Though the “hand on” reliability is a little compromised, surgery in cases where skilled individuals are scarce and time is doing what it always did, is considered beneficial. The faith in technology, and the technology itself, needs the very time that critical patients hope for.
Science fiction writers and the creativeness that they possess should probably have minor engineering input. They seem to be able to stand outside (which is their stance, anyway), and view matters with some imagination and objectivity. It could only happen where there is a long-term research and development policy. It is sometimes the case that an outside input, however unqualified, can present a sort of solution. Of course, they wouldn’t be capable of seeing it through, but can be blessed by a type of indifference and passion that is imagination. They wouldn’t be “locked down” by the daily regimen that is production. This is often done with non-executive directors who are given a position, but not a thirty to fifty hour position. A new or different view, and of course, any influence that they bring with them, is the objective.
An inorganic tool for simple repairs of an atomic reactor, or similar human-aggressive environment, has to be a good thing. It’s sad to still see men and women still, losing life, limbs and other functions, in global battlefields. The bizarre thing is that without such loss, impact would be less. If we could deploy robots (which we can), we would have to go further, and loss would still be the case.
Anyway, missions to areas that don’t support life, like Mars, couldn’t be examined to the same degree without physical samples being mechanically collected. Who better to do a dirty job, but an emotionless arrangement of metals and non-metals, plastics, composites, sundry wiring and piping of similar materials, with an ability to follow instructions?
Not that all robots are considered to be emotionless. This state can be engineered, it seems, but hardly carries the same weight. Emotional Intelligence has been achieved to some degree, with frowns, smiles and reactions to tone, quantifiable. Okay, so you might become attached, the likeness is so close, but you then have to question your own humanity and perception of it, where you find it to be equal. That is hardly a bad thing, though.
A robot needs power as we need it, through food. A robot has a life span, not unlike us. A robot needs engineering and we’re not new to this either. Most robots have less to say; what can I say?
Seamus Dolly is at www.CountControl.com and www.smartwebmarketer.com/cgi-bin/d.cgi/seamus/.
His background is in engineering and analogue electronics and his studies include A+ and iNet+.