When robots are used in harmony with humans as a tool to help mankind, the future holds greater potential in new economic and scientific breakthroughs. By Swaminathan Vangal-Ramamurthy, GM of Robotics Business Division, Omron Asia Pacific
Skynet. The Matrix. I, Robot. Hollywood loves to make robots and machines the villain. Yet since the stone age, mankind has been relying on tools and tapping on machines as a source of assistance.
Today, robots are essential to our lives – from everyday transportation to food preparation and delivery, programmed machines are likely present in the process. But whenever a new form of technology is introduced, there are always sceptics who would see it with doubt or even fear.
This is now happening with artificial intelligence and robotics. You read it in the media, you hear coffee-shop talks that machines may eventually take on all the jobs that humans do now, and human workers will be made redundant.
Yet, machines have repeatedly proven over the course of history that with the right use they can co-exist harmoniously together with mankind, and contribute toward its betterment. The wheel could have been a threat to the best gatherers when it was first invented during the Neolithic times, but now, we can hardly move around efficiently without it.
Robots’ Genesis As Tools
Robots are built with a purpose in mind. The earliest machines started out as measurement devices, largely serving as sources of information. This was the case with the Hero of Alexandria’s mobile odometer, which measured distances travelled, and Su Song’s clock. These machines were designed to help humans mechanise processes for more efficient outcomes in manual tasks. When these machines were first introduced, they also brought about entire industries dedicated to scientific instruments and clockmaking. Rather than threatening jobs, these technological innovations created them.
Rise Of Machines For Productivity
The benefits of robots are clear in industries that have yet to be formed, but what about those that already exist? This concern of machines taking our jobs, or even threaten humanity, is not new. Those fears were highlighted when machines began to propel human innovation and productivity on a large scale during the Industrial Revolution.
But steam-powered creations replaced repetitive work, such as cotton seed removal through the cotton gin. The increase of steam and water powered machines greatly propelled economic growth and efficiency. The advent of robots, in their early form, marked a milestone in humanity’s Industrial Revolution, and was hailed as a catalyst for productivity. Spurred by growth, inventors realised that robots’ true potential lay in their ability to enhance the human experience.
Enhancing Lifestyles Through Robots
With a new vision for enhanced productivity, engineers created robots to take on simple tasks, in lockstep with mankind’s every advance in innovation. These innovations allowed us to perform more complex tasks with relative simplicity. Directing multiple traffic flows at an intersection, as an example, can be condensed into a set of simple rules once the intricacies of urban congestion are understood.
With robots assisting us, we can automate traffic flow, or dispense cash upon command. Simple commands that a human would carry out without any special thought can be performed by robots, and when chained together, form complex systems. Just as they have in the past, robots continue to provide mankind with the ability to be more creative and productive.
Artificial Intelligence For Tomorrow
We are now entering an information era where simple tasks quite often require simple decisions. The next logical progression is to allow robots to make more and more complex decisions as we agree on those that are simple enough to make without human intervention.
As we entrust more and more simple decision-making to robots, we give rise to artificial intelligence. While giving robots the ability to make simple decisions may cause some to worry that they may replace human decision-making, or make mankind redundant, this is the same fear that existed in the Industrial Age.
The ability for robots to make simple decisions will create the building blocks that mankind will use to create innovative solutions, improve productivity, enhance the human experience, and create completely new industries as history has shown us.
Today, robots have proven their aptitude in potentially curing cancer, providing shopping and home assistance for the handicapped and have been a massive help and catalyst for economic growth and research. With new advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, sensors and machine reasoning, there is immense potential for more boundaries to be broken.
When robots are used in harmony with humans as a tool to help mankind, the future holds greater potential in new economic and scientific breakthroughs. And with each new breakthrough, mankind will find – with robots’ help – new ways to better itself.