With Capek and Asimov robots entered in our lives via science fiction books. Generation
after generation was waiting for them to arrive also in our life. The usual perception was about humanoid robots interfering in our paths helping people in different way. The robots revolution was, in fact, already started by the apparition of the unspectacular industrial robots. Since the middle of the 20th century, robotics has become an essential
component of the production industry. However, the next major challenge for robotics
concerns applications for domestic environments and personal use, thus involving closer interaction between robots and humans.
In future robots will carry our lives in their hand. It is much to discuss if they will displace workforce or create more jobs, if they will enhance our society or transform it in a Calhoun type experiment, if they may turn on their creators or be our collaborators, but anyway they are here to stay and to evolve further, and soon we will have also the more friendly humanoid versions entering our houses.
As for any technology there are dual use and interpretations of everything. They were
days with no nuclear energy, artificial light and television. But also days without nuclear weapons.
They were days with no computers and no modern means of transport. Life of the common man was not as easy or rich as that of modern times, but he was more active.
They were days with no online messengers, no emails and no cell phones. But that days had more warmth of personal contact, and no hacking, spamming and phishing.
With all the developments in technology, we may be able to enjoy more luxury in life but at
the cost of losing its priceless joys.
From the news:
Foxconn reportedly has started deploying 10,000 robots which replace somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 workers. Within 3 years, Foxconn wants to install about 1
million robots – called Foxbots – and replace up to 1 million workers.
Excerpt from chapter four of Journal of a Time Traveler – a science fiction and fantasy book about time travel:
“What kind of changes are you expecting?”
“Working less, for example. Four days a week would be a nice dream.”
“Are you sure it will pass the dream stage?”
“It has already happened in the past, from twelve to eight hours and from six to five days. Of course, this did not happen overnight and it wasn’t easy, but why not a step further?”
“And that means?”
“An old social experiment. In fact it was about mice, but rats have more influence on the human psyche so the reporters changed the name to get a bigger audience.”
“Rats, or mice, they are not humans.”
“They are social mammals not very different from us. Calhoun created a mouse heaven, with plenty of food and no enemies. Everybody expected good things and got only bad ones. He coined the phrase, ‘In Calhoun’s heaven, hell was other mice.’ Not very far from ‘homo homini lupus est’.”
“What changed mice behaviour?”
“And what created that alienation.” His laconic answer had changed my mood more than I wanted.
He stirred the fire as though pondering whether it was worth upsetting my good temper. “Overpopulation followed by social disorganization. Think of big mice cities and you can see parallels.”
“They could reduce the numbers.”
“Their population went down naturally but even when it was back down to a normal level
none of the mice changed back. The change was irreversible, their ‘culture’ disappeared, and the new generation did not know anything about it. The outcome of the experiment was that, in his own words: ‘When growth passed a certain threshold, a population supplied with adequate resources did not decline to a point of lower density; it became extinct’.”
“Could they extrapolate from mice behaviour to human behaviour?”
“No matter how sophisticated we consider ourselves to be, we still have inherited animal blueprints. Once the number of individuals able to perform social functions greatly exceeds the number of existing roles, violence and disruption of social organization will follow.”
Very few know today that the robots’ history started in science fiction books and not in science research labs or universities. And even fewer that Capek introduced and made popular the frequently used international word robot, which first appeared in his novel R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1920. The science fiction door was then open for many authors, books and movies featuring robots.
And it was absolutely normal that the majority of science fiction books describe humanoid robots and not the bland ones assembling cars all around the world. There is no fan in making them heroes, not even in books. To attract readers robots have to resemble humans, they have to inspire admiration, and they have to inspire fear. And no one can say today how the future will play in the game between natural intelligence and artificial intelligence, not even researches or science fiction writers. At least we have the pleasure to read as many science fiction books we can find in stores or libraries.