[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 20 December 2013.]
If you have been following the non-political side of the news recently, you no doubt have picked up on a hot topic getting hotter – robots and robotics. In these commentaries we have covered the social impact of robots, and there is more to be said about that. But today there is a new buzz on new robot developments and how robots have already become part of our everyday lives. By robots we mean software, machines, and humanoid looking characters that have more than a little intelligence built into them, and that intelligence is growing daily at an astounding rate.
With accelerating technology big companies like Google and Amazon are investing huge sums to acquire smaller nimbler companies that have worked nights and days to invent and build machines that autonomously drive cars through city traffic, four-legged creatures that carry heavy packs over rough terrain, and contraptions that print the most wondrous things in three dimensions, objects that used to take expert tool and dye makers and machinists weeks to fabricate. Now you can make almost any part you can think of in a back room or garage using a 3D printer no larger than your dishwasher.
Today Japan leads the world in domestic robots. Japan has a rapidly aging population and not enough young people to care for their elderly. The obvious solution is humanoid robots that learn to do all manner of household tasks from vacuuming the living room, bringing and putting away things, to making you a nice cup of hot tea. And they don’t mind being interrupted while doing one thing to respond to your urgent desire to have that tea, right now.
Companies like IBM are already selling extremely intelligent online physicians and healthcare specialists to health maintenance organizations and private practices, based on their now famous Watson supercomputer. These super-human expert services will be delivered online so that a doctor or other healthcare worker can simply converse with the expert using normal speech. The patient’s health data can be relayed either verbally, or uploaded in as a more massive datafile. The resulting diagnosis, analysis, prescription, or recommended treatments will be computed in seconds, and available all over the globe to any subscriber of the service with internet connectivity.
More astounding advances have been made to put robots into classrooms, auto and aircraft maintenance installations, and even pairing them with artists to assist in composing, arranging, and orchestrating music. Today there may still be places in the daily round where no one has thought of putting a robot to work, but just wait until tomorrow or the day after that.
The scary part is that intelligent machines are taking over thousands of jobs that provided a decent living to human workers. As consumers, we want robots everywhere in the pipeline from mining raw minerals to delivering the finished package to our door, simply because they do it better, more reliably, and at a lower cost to us. But as breadwinners, those of us still in the workforce are beginning to wonder and ask the big question. If machines are becoming as smart or smarter than we, and can do all these things for us, then what will be left for us to do in order to fulfill our lives in accomplishment and service? In short, what then will we do to retain our humanity? We haven’t tried to answer that question yet, but soon we must.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on NCTV and georgerebane.com where the transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening, and have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and productive 2014.
[Addendum] More on this critical but universally ignored question from Forbes and The Washington Post.