Many of us can remember the days of wanting an RC car for Christmas. Yet robots have moved far beyond a remote-controlled car.
Recently, robots are a topic of debate and discussion in and outside of tech circles. While some countries embrace robotics, others are wary and fearful.
But are machines on their own something to fear? What are the developments happening currently, and what does that spell for the future?
Although many do not think of them as robots, drones are part of the robotic family. Amazon has been investing resources is delivery drones and drone hives, believing this is the next step in their delivery program.
And it’s not just in delivery where Amazon is investing in robots. In fact, most of Amazon’s warehouses have some form of automated assistance. This does not mean jobs disappeared when robots appeared. Individuals who were displaced by robots are trained and moved elsewhere by the company.
And Amazon is not the only company to invest in delivery and automation robots. A trend that has been around for decades is picking up pace, with debates on what it does for job growth. However, automated robots are not the main discomfort for humans.
Emotional helping robots
In Japan it is common to see a robot who is designed to read emotions and assist with humans.
Pepper is a humanoid robot with learning capabilities that was released in 2014. Engineers designed Pepper to read and respond to human emotions. Although the original robot did not offer emotional responses, the robot released in 2015 had upgraded emotional response.
Within 60 seconds, Pepper sold out of 1000 units. Currently, Pepper can be found in businesses around Tokyo.
However, that does not mean Pepper is being used. In fact, Pepper is often left standing as streams of humans pass by. Though it’s unclear whether people are unwilling to accept Pepper’s assistance, or just not needing the help. Rather, Pepper dots the landscape as a sad and lonely fixture.
While Pepper stands, hoping for a way to assist, other robots have gained more media attention. Particularly those robots who have highly developed artificial intelligence.
The best example is Sophia, to whom Saudi Arabia recently granted citizenship.
Although Sophia is not alone, she stands above most other robots in her learning capabilities. In the few years she has been touring the world, we have seen her adapt and change to her environment. Every interaction for Sophia is a moment of learning and growth in how to be human.
The goal for Sophia is to be as human as possible.
Long gone are the days of RC cars being something of awe. In fact, we are coming close to the days when drones are no longer an item of mystic and curiosity. But what does the future hold for humans and robots?
Amazon is making quick headway in automating almost every portion of their business, pushing ahead to be the master of retail. Yet, there is an equal gathering of regulation and resistance. Just last week San Francisco passed heavy regulations banning the use of robotic delivery.
While use of delivery machines is not directly illegal, the ability to use delivery robots is so highly restrictive to prevent general use. Yet other states and cities have allowed almost unfettered use of delivery robots.
Similarly, people do not use Pepper frequently despite prevalence. Or in the case of one journalist’s experience, at all. While some individuals may say they like Pepper, and children are more prone to use the robot, streams of people ignore its existence.
Pepper’s experience is very like Sophia’s, in that both robots are great spectacles. But humans have yet to gain any level of comfort with their existence.
So what does the future hold? It’s clear automation will happen regardless. There is no stopping this current development track, and as private companies fall in behind the automated push, there is little government will be able to do to slow it down.
But that doesn’t speak to a deeper and larger question. Though appearing very different, both Pepper and Sofia highlight a similar human trait. Which is to see machines as either spectacle or threat. In fact, people avoid Pepper's existence.
Yet if we see robots as only spectacle or threat, either to our comfort or our jobs, will humans ever bridge the gap to making robots a true ally? Or is it more likely we will see what is happening with virtual assistants, with humans developing abusive and demeaning attitudes, forever dooming robots into a realm of helpful but unwanted.