Life with Robots

Let’s have a heart-to-heart discussion about the elephant in the room i.e. the fear that artificial intelligence may take over our jobs in the future & make human skills redundant. We can see AI being used in various fields, from robotic surgeries & self-driven cars, to robots independently managing e-commerce warehouses & robots which can protect organizations from cyber-attacks, drone cars which could fly you to work, saving you from peak-hour traffic jams & so on. While these are brilliant applications & commendable achievements in technology, the hype behind the scare that robots will take over humans is something that can be taken with a pinch of salt.

The history of the human race is full of waves which were brought about by technology and changed societies forever. In his book, The Third Wave, written by the American futurist author Alvin Toffler, he says that our society went through three such waves of technology. These waves brought about significant cultural shifts. A cultural shift means that an old culture is drastically replaced by new culture changing the society permanently. Change is necessary but may not be comfortable. During the transition from the new to old culture, people might feel that too much is changing too fast.

The first wave was that of the discovery of agriculture where humans transitioned from hunters & gatherers, wandering for food to humans who could settle in one place, grow their own food and have a comfortable lifestyle. Similarly, the second wave came in the form of industrialization where technology made possible to produce goods on a large scale. This wave saw the growth of industries  & urban societies with modern facilities such as trains, cheaper & better quality textiles, machines for agriculture etc., thus increasing life’s comfort. The third wave was that of Information, which changed the way the world was connected and brought it closer. You could now access information about almost everything under the sun thanks to internet.

 

Toffler is not present today to predict whether AI will be the fourth wave that will transform our society. However, his views written in his book Future Shock, coauthored by his wife Heidi Toffler, may put our fear of robots taking over humanity, to rest. The Tofflers says that the “scare” is nothing but something called “future shock”. Future shock is a perception in us that “too much is changing too fast”. The change becomes uncomfortable and thus makes people anxious about the future.

 

However, looking at the past 3 waves, whenever a new technology or wave has come, the society has gone through a transition and emerged out to give a more comfortable life. Agriculture created a settled life, industrialization made material comforts easily available and internet made it possible to know about everything from the where you can order your next meal from to what is happening at that moment in any corner of the world. With robots, life might further become more convenient where an AI-based system can be built to do anything like sending an alert of a looming earthquake or tsunami accurately to the inhabitants of an area and facilitate early evacuation.

 

Robots also might completely change education and early development of children. Parents, who are constantly pressed for time with demanding work schedules, can get some relief if a companion robot helps parents check on their kid, help the child revise for an exam and not just that by also bond with them. Wouldn’t it help parents manage the development of their children better? Such a robot has been invented by an Indian robotics company by the name emotix. Miko 2 is an advanced personal robot for kids who educates & entertains them and bonds with them, thanks to a proprietary emotional intelligence machine. Thus, it makes the child not just smarter but also happier. Robots are no more just a thing of sci-fi; they are already here, helping us to make our lives simpler.

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