Ready or not, robots are here to stay

by: Tom Oder

Imagine this scenario: Your smartphone sends you an alert that it’s time to go to work, so you go to the front steps to wait for your car. You don’t have to go to it. Your car will come to you because it’s a driverless car. It knows the day of the week, has scanned traffic patterns while you were in the shower, knows whether there are traffic accidents or road construction on your regular route to the office, knows what time you need to leave to arrive on time and even knows how to get there – including alternate routes.

Once you settle into your seat – and there’s plenty of room to stretch out because there are no cumbersome things of the past like a steering wheel, a gas pedal or brakes to get in your way – you begin exchanging texts with a few co-workers about an important afternoon meeting. There’s no need to worry about texting and driving because, after all, you’re not driving. The car is.

Sound far fetched? It’s not, really. Driverless cars are already on the road. Google and others have begun testing them, and three states permit driverless cars. Some think they will be the norm in a decade.

“In 10 years, 95 percent of cars currently on the road will be useless,” Sandeep Dadlani, executive vice president and head of the Americas for Infosys, said recently. “Kids today who are under the age of five will never need to drive a car,” he added during a panel discussion on innovative technology and the Internet of Things at a recent meeting of the Global Commerce Committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Why would they? A robot – the car – will do their driving for them!

We may have to wait a decade for robotic cars to become reality. But, if you accept the definition that a robot is anything that takes the place of human effort to accomplish a task, there are plenty of robots are already around us.

Think about it.

Robots can park a car without any effort from the driver.

Robots give us the option to scan our purchases in the checkout lanes at some stores. (Tip: If you aren’t already doing this, you might want to give it a try. “In five years, there will be no people staffing the checkout counters,” Dadlani predicted during the panel discussion.)

  • Robots “man” manufacturing assembly lines.
  • Robots answer calls at businesses.
  • Robots wash our cars.
  • Robots check in baggage at airports.
  • Robots give us money at ATMs.
  • Robots fight wars.

Ready or not – and, like it or not – ike it or not, robots are here to stay.

What we don’t know is the extent to which robots will change workplaces, workforces and lifestyles or just how the educational system will have to adjust to train future generations so our children and their children will be employable in a robotic economy. While the future is never easy to predict, technology is advancing and changing so fast that it is blurring the lens of futurists perhaps more now than ever.

After all, we’ve barely nudged away from the starting line of robotic technologies. We can no more know where our relationship with robots is going than the Wright Brothers could imagine how they would impact aviation when they took that first brief flight over the sands at Kitty Hawk, N.C. or Henry Ford could have known how he would affect transportation when his first horseless carriage rolled off the assembly line.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that fear of the future and worrying about whether robots could ever make humans irrelevant is futile. In fact, Carlos Plaza Vegas, senior vice president at Indra, Spain’s leading consulting and technology multinational, and a panelist at the Global Commerce Council discussion, characterized resistance to innovation and change as “death.”

The question we have to ask ourselves, he said, is whether technology is outstripping the human imagination. “Will machines evolve and start innovating on their own?” he asked. “that’s the real challenge we face.”

There are different schools of thought about this, of course. Indeed, it’s difficult to get your arms around the concept of robots becoming “us” and doing their own thing or making decisions independent of human interaction. If they ever could, would they make Spock-like decisions based solely on cold numerical-type calculations or is it possible robots might have a conscience?

And, perhaps, therein lies the good news. We are in control of the robots, and they do our bidding on limits we set. At least for now.

~ Tom

Tom Older

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