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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Robots at their infancy

The use of robots nowadays has already "escaped" from the realm of industry and is now becoming available to the citizens. We can find today commercial robots for various uses at very low cost that come together with tele-operation interfaces designed for untrained users or other which are programmable.

Robots are also in use by the military, space exploration, civil security and fire-protection at a small scale, but it seems that their integration will proceed further in view of their advantages over humans.
This, of course, has a different meaning for each particular case, but at the basis of all we can recognize cost and responsibility.

Regarding cost, it appears as a natural consequence if a robot substitutes a human, given that both can do equally well the respective job but the robot construction and maintenance is much more cheaper. Well... at least if that does not concern your job and only if the substitution of the human by the robot means that the respective product will be cheaper for you, the consumer. 

If that's the case, what about the unlucky man/woman that will loose his/her job because of the robot? Before answering that question, consider if you prefer to pay the more expensive product/service given by the man or the less expensive product/service given by the robot. If you are a philanthropist and prefer to save the man's job, what do you think that the rest of the society will prefer? You may start to think now, that the substitution of the man is inevitable, if not necessary. You may even become positive if you think that for the construction and maintenance of the robot, other men will have to work and new jobs will be have to be created.

In any case, the relation between production cost of a robot/machine and human labor cost seems to have a well-understood basis and a long history today, as it has started some centuries now with the industrial revolution.

But the use of robots outside the factory and in particular within human society has and will have very serious new implications. Within the small, constrained boundaries of a factory, the notion of responsibility is very clear and accountability for the operation of robots is strictly within the limits of the company.

Unfortunately, we are not yet ready to understand these concepts for robots that are at the hands of consumers and in general out there in the open world (see earlier posts Beginning of a new era and Beginning of new era II). With robots being produced at a global scale and without any regulation for permission of use, anybody with good gaming skills can become a robot owner and user.

I truly do not wish that as a society we will need to realize the potential of this technology through an unfortunate event, but i fear that the freedom and lack of control for use of this technology will sooner or later lead to such an outcome.

The source of the following video is from euronews channel and is about a series of air drone flights in the surroundings of several nuclear plants around France, which are currently under investigation with no information yet about the purpose of those flights or their operators. 

Is it about naive enthousiasts that just want to draw attention and try something daring, or is there something more serious behind such actions? Whatever the answer, now is the time to see robotics from a very serious perspective before we need to pay the cost of negligence. The days of innocence will soon be over.

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