Johnny 5, R2D2, C3PO, The Terminator, I, Robot, Wall-E, Rosie of the Jetsons, Bender of Futurama, cyborgs, androids, automatons, the giant makes Voltron, Mazinger Z, Gundam, Voltes V, Gipsy Dancer of Pacific Rim, Mecha Godzilla, Macross, remote controlled drones and Martian rovers. These are the figures that we see and think of when we speak of robots, robotics and artificial intelligence. If you’re old enough, The Million Dollar Man and Automan may pop up in your mind. Most of them are products of science fiction movies, comics and novels, but the idea of robotics and other mechanical/digital concepts have turned into reality due to advancements in science, engineering and mathematics. If we trace the whole history of robotics, it will span thousands of years since man learned to develop mechanical machines that do certain tasks and functions.
Since the start of the 21st Century, mankind has made tremendous advancements in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. From simple computing machines to robots used in manufacturing to artificial limbs and robots walking upright, the advancements are real. Modern robots can replicate the actions and movements of humans and some experimental robots are being designed and made to look like actual humans. All advancements in technology are proven to have a big impact on society. It can be good or bad. This is the same in the field of robotics. While many scientists are trying to make computers and robots smart, the next challenge lies in teaching and programming robots to react to any changing conditions and to think for themselves. AI will make machines have the ability to think analytically, taking advantage of the collective concepts and advances in robotics, computer science and mathematics. Let’s have a look at what kind of robotics and artificial intelligence are in store for us.
Robotics, Robots And Artificial Intelligence Defined
Wikipedia defines robotics as a brainchild of technology that focus on the design, operation, construction and the application of robots and the computer systems that control them, provide sensory feedback and processing information. The collective technologies deal with the automated machines that can replace or take the place of humans in life threatening or dangerous tasks and processes. As defined by the Robot Institute Of America in 1979, a robot is a programmable and multi-functional manipulator that is designed to move parts, tools, materials or any specialized devices through different programmed motions in performing or doing a variety of tasks. A robot is also defined as a virtual, artificial or a mechanical agent. It is an electro-mechanical machine that uses a computer program as guidance. It can also use electronic circuitry as guidance control. Artificial intelligence or AI is defined as the intelligence shown by software or by machines. It can also be defined as the field of study and the design of intelligent agents, where AI are systems that perceives it surrounding our environment and take actions to maximize chances of success.
The term robot was first coined by Karl Capek, a Czech playwright. The word robot was derived from the Czech word for serf or forced labor. The term was first used in his play called R.U.R or Rossum’s Universal Robots which premiered in January 1921 in Prague. The term robotics was first introduced by Russian born American Isaac Asimov in his science fiction short story titled “Liar!” which was published in 1941. Asimov’s novel compilation “I, Robot” was also made into a movie starring Will Smith. Asimov was also known to formulate the Three Laws Of Robotics. Norbert Wiener formulated the principles of cybernetics which is the basis of practical or applied robotics.
The Uses Of Robots And Robotics
Full autonomous robots appeared during the 2nd half of the 20th Century. The first digitally controlled robot called the inmate was made and installed in 1961 to handle hot pieces of metal from die cast machines. Industrial and commercial robots are further developed to perform dangerous, laborious and repeated jobs where human limitations like fatigue, human error, accidents and other human factors are present. Through the years more and more industrial robots are replacing humans in many assembly and production lines. Factories have employed robots because it’s cheaper, more reliable, more accurate as compared to humans with limitations. Although the human aspect is still present because as many experts and industrialist will say, nothing can replace the human eye for perfection. Humans are still needed in the operation of these automated machines.
The human factor is still in the equation. Present day robots are widely used in assembly, manufacturing, transport, packaging, surgery, space and earth exploration, weapons, research, security and the production of consumer goods. We also have to remember that for every robot generation, the technology and their artificial intelligence are also progressing. From mechanical grippers, vacuum grippers, to rolling robots, two-wheeled balancing robots, military robots and at present computers that can beat humans at specific games, walking robots, humanoid robots to an autonomous vacuum cleaner, a lot has changed. Present day scientists are doing research and studies in enhancing human-robot interactions. Science fiction authors and sci-fi movies have assumed that robots will eventually be able to communicate with humans with human-like facial expression, speech and gestures, rather than just a command-line interface. It will be decades before anyone can interact with a robot like Bender or a cyborg like the Terminator.
Areas Where Robotics Will Affect Society And Its Impact On The Economy
According to the article by Colin Lewis, there are 5 areas where robotics will have a massive impact on society and the economy as a whole in the next decade. Although military is already a significant area, the 5 areas are mostly in civilian use. It is not predicted because the technology is already here, but it’s just not evenly distributed, according to Lewis.
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAVs) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are drones currently used by the military, but there is already a growing demand for non military use like border control, search and rescue, ground traffic, fire fighting surveillance, geographic research and other governmental functions. There is also a niche market for lightweight, low altitude drones that can be better in many commercial ventures such as mapping, logistics, farming, oil and gas pipeline management, security and in cinematic films. Recreational and hobbyists are also into small scale drones, attaching cameras for DIY movies and footage. Regulations and rules are being created for drone civilian use because people do worry about their privacy within the United States And Europe. The next 5 years will be a promising future for drones. We can expect to see drones becoming an integral part of society information infrastructure such as media, industries, logistics, governments, agriculture and the private sector will embrace the technology.
According to the report of the US Roadmap For Robotics, it is essential to continue developing and deploying robots and use robotics systems for the enhancement of medical procedures and to reduce the total cost of health care. The use of robotics in medicine has been proven to be effective and still holds great potential that will revolutionize clinical practice by way of facilitating the medical practice by accurately guiding instruments, the tools for diagnosis, therapy and diagnostic equipment. It will also improve the safety and the overall quality of the surgery, promoting information use in therapy and diagnosis. It will improve the education and training of many medical personnel through the use of simulators and lastly, it will enhance patient care.
Exoskeletons and robotic prosthetics
Bionic or cyborg – any way you want to call it – man and machine as one living organism is already here. Exoskeletons and prosthetics provide major improvements in many people that have lost limbs or are suffering from any mobility issues. Many present day prosthetics are using sensors, microprocessors and actuators in improving their function. Many exoskeletons are being developed as wearable bionic devices that enable people who are wheelchair bound to stand up and walk again.
Cars with no drivers
Cars without drivers; we have seen it on The Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Autonomous vehicles that include Google car will be commercially on the road before 2018. The long term impact on society regarding autonomy and self driving cars will be a big change in how people commute. Believers of the technology also stated that the there will be a great reduction in traffic accidents which are caused mostly by human error. Although many are still skeptical of driver-less cars because of safety and accuracy, the technology can provide solutions to the high cost of traffic accidents and transportation infrastructure. It will also reduce many hours wasted in traffic, wasted urban space and unused parking lots.
Artificial assistants will impact on a large number of people. AI pioneers like Google indicated that anyone using a smartphone or tablet will be taking advantage of artificial assistants by 2017. Technological giants Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Google and IBM are investing millions of dollars in development in R&D in advancing the capabilities of artificial assistants and capturing the market. The EU estimated that the AI market in 2013 is at $959 million or 700 million euros. It is expected to grow in the coming years and will exceed 27 billion euros or $35 billion by 2015. With the continued advancement in the research of AI, the potential of artificial assistants will finally arrive.
With the said advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence, it is industry and the military that will be the first to see and use the benefits of robotics. The coming years will surely bring changes and most probably, we will be able to communicate and mingle with robots just like real humans.