Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Robots Not Just For Industry - A Consumer Market Awaits

A Massive Consumer Market Exists For Robots
Occasionally it is fun and interesting to roll out a piece on an offbeat subject like artificial intelligence or robots. Just over five years ago an article that I stumbled across started me thinking about the implications of robots going mainstream. Yes, I'm looking down the road at a time in the future that is getting closer with each passing day. It will not be long before a person decides to walk down the street with his metal companion or worker beside him or in tow. Whether it is to carry things, do work, provide personal protection as a bodyguard, or because you just want to attract attention and turn heads this will happen. Questions immediately begin to surface and problems arise when you are told at the mall that you can't bring that "thing" in here.

The article I referred to was written by Arik Hesseldahl on Sept 21, 2013, and posted on the website, All Things D. It explores the idea of building your own robot, what would you have it do? If you're the type who’s into building stuff and coding, it told how you would soon get your chance to answer that question for real, courtesy of an interesting project coming from the labs of chip-maker Intel. The company’s futurist, Brian David Johnson was recently in New York at the Maker Faire to let folks get a look at Jimmy, an open source robot assembled from parts fabricated on a 3-D printer. He also showed off a non-working model of Jimmy on CBS’s Saturday Morning today.

Robots Will Have A Huge Impact On Our Culture
Once assembled, Jimmy — or whatever you choose to name it — would be as readily programmable as a smartphone. You could also download and install apps that other people develop as easily as you would install them on an iPhone or Android device. Johnson said the plan is to create a kit that would be available for purchase for less than $1,000 and that he hopes to get the whole cost down to under $500. He was also giving away copies of a book called “21st Century Robot” that contains the open source files for printing the robot parts.

Over the last five years, robots have come a long way and tremendous progress is being made to bring them to the point where they are more than an oddity or futuristic thing of science fiction. With all this in mind I predict that in a year or two a home robot will be the "go to" Christmas gift. This makes it very important we begin to consider and imagine some of the ways our culture will begin to change when robots start to appear on the streets of our cities in the same way wireless phones have, this is the only way we can begin to prepare ourselves for what is about to unfold. Most likely robot ownership will become a huge status symbol and people may soon choose to buy a robot and finance it the same way they purchase a car. When you begin to see how man has linked himself to machines and even given them personalities and gender traits we begin to move into the area of a robot companion. In the 1999 Austin Powers movie "The Spy Who Shagged Me" a humanoid fembot appears, this gives new meaning to the term sex doll and probably has been the source of more than a few fantasies.  

Depending on the price the most sophisticated robots may become a toy and tool only for the wealthy which could cause mass envy and resentment especially if it begins to displace a number of workers by eliminating or taking their jobs. A robot has the potential to assume the role of a servant or slave without many of the negative problems humans tend to bring to the job. Many of these issues will be sorted out and defined by new laws and regulations dealing with matters such as liability if a robot hurts someone or damages  property. Some of these issues are already surfacing when it comes to driverless cars recently being operated in different areas as accidents occur. We must remember robots can come in many sizes and forms with a variety of capabilities thus often making them hard to define.

Is It Really Possible To Totally Tame A Metal Beast?
At this point everyone expects more robots to appear in our factories, in public spaces, and even in our homes. Artist, coder, and designer Madeline Gannon has gone to great lengths to explore how to increase the bonds between humans and robots so they can better relate to each other. Gannon uses a lot of metaphors when thinking about how we might engage with non-humanoid autonomous machines and trying to understand body language as a means of communicating with robots. Gannon recognizes that we have a lot of one-sided relationships that add meaning to our lives such as our pets, for example, they don’t have great ways of communicating with us, yet they’ve transcended from being wild creatures in nature to being domesticated and able to add meaning to our lives.

She is not saying that animalistic robots are the way to this future but sees it’s a narrative and dimension to explore and finds that people tend to think about our relationships with robots as a unitary thing but recognizes that for different types of robots we may want more. While we don’t want robots to be our masters she argues we also don’t want them to be our slaves, right now those are the two dominant narratives. With this in mind, Gannon wants to interface with machines and robots having them augment our lives rather than replacing us. This is why Gannon wants an interface with machines that grants us access to their superhuman strength, abilities, and precision in a way that augments us rather than simply replaces us. She also sees a danger when there’s a disconnect between the behavior and personality the robot is projecting and its agenda or motivation. This means designing cute robots, which is a very effective way to win us over and gain our trust, could be used to spy on us or even turn into killing machines.

As we extend this idea of private robot ownership in the near future imagine how as the capabilities of robots increase they could become multi-functional and fill many needs. Think of the children's toy transformers and how a robot could extend limbs and thus change size. Imagine if a robot would have pegs on his legs and when it leaned over you could step on and ride it like a Segway, this could replace the car in many urban settings.  As robots take our jobs and displace our relationships society may transform in ways we never imagined, this has the potential to become very interesting with a variety of hybrid robots even displacing dogs as mans best friend. Yes, we are looking at the face of a strange new world.

Footnote; The article below expands on the idea of where robots entering our lives might take society.


  1. yes we do want them to be our slaves

  2. For an update on what is happening when it comes to robots, it is important to note that Japan has joined with those calling for regulating killer robots. With the policy shift, Japan is now hoping it can play a more dynamic role in crafting international rules on what have been called lethal autonomous weapons systems, or LAWS.

    Falling into this category are killer drones, however, there is also the growing concern of how drones might become or be used as weapons of mass destruction that would leave humans utterly defenseless. More on this subject in the article below.

  3. Not sure about the rich status symbol thing. Look at microwaves. started at 800 bucks for the first one I saw and that was what .. . 1978? Now look .. . 28 bucks at walmart. The same thing will happen with the proliferation of robots in homes.