Unpopular Science – Building a Better You

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a robot to do all your work? Clean up after you, work for you, walk your dog for you? Wouldn’t that be just great, you could sit at home all day and watch reruns of Friends while you eat potato chips, made for you by a robot. Yeah, after all, if robots do anything, who needs humans, we’d all be obsolete. That’s right, you’d become the new AOL, we’d no longer need to exist. Human beings, the long evolved form of far more primitive mammals, have hit the point where our evolved intelligence will allow us to stop evolving, so we can just build the next step. Robots. Don’t believe me? Its already happening.

Isaac Asimov is the father of modern robotics, he even invented the word. You simply cannot escape his influence. The Three Laws of Robotics, as defined in his story “Runaround”, are probably one of the most references points of robotic lore around. Haven’t read it? I seriously recommend it, or buy the book “Robot Dreams”, which has that, among other of Isaac Asimov’s works in it. He often worked to perpetuate the idea that robots were harmless, so long as they obeyed the three laws. Today we are building robots to test how much pain we can endure, such that we can program them to understand the First Law of Robotics (A robot must not harm a human, or through inaction, allow a robot to come to harm.) You can find a link to an article about it at the bottom here. Now, on the surface ,that’s pretty cool, but when you take into account the things that robots already can do, its actually quite scary.

If you think about it, and I mean really open your minds and think about it, technology already rules our lives. You’re probably reading this at a Starbucks on your two thousand dollar laptop, drinking your overpriced espresso, brewed by a machine that knows exactly how hot to brew it. Your money was likely taken from you by a computer, or card reading machine. While you read this, you text your best friend “Holy crap, this David guy is knowing my every move! Check out this crazy article!” on a smartphone. That smartphone knows all of your friends, can track your every location, send that information anywhere in the world, and you refuse to leave home without it. Crazy, right? But, you control these machine, you can put them down any time you want. That’s what you’ll tell me. I know you’re lying, you know you’re lying, let’s get over it.

So, determining we are dependant on technology, lets look at the fact its going to replace you one day. Half the apps on that smartphone can post on Facebook for you, if you so choose to let them, tweet your every action, and upload that funny tweet to Tumblr. So, they don’t need you. Over the last thirty years, robots have been brought into almost every major automobile manufacturing plant on the planet. Yes, there are still people working there who watch the process, making sure things go smoothly. These people need to make sure the robots don’t screw it all up, push all the buttons. However, as robots get more, and more intelligent, the number of people get less, and less. Its not just cars either. Most manufacturing processes are being taken over by robotic labour. It can work for hours with no breaks, needs no sleep, and can work harder that ten men. And they don’t need paychecks.

“But David,” you prepare to point out, “you still need people to think for them!” Well, yes, that was true even ten years ago. Not today so much I am afraid. Computers are getting better. That laptop you are currently working on probably has a 2.4 GHz processor. You might not think too much about that, but take into account the Apollo 11 guidance computer had a 1.024 MHz processor. That means your overpowered web browser has 2343.75x the processing power of the Apollo computers. Kind of makes you feel bad for looking at pictures of cats, eh? What does this all mean? In just forty-four years, the computers have increased exponentially, and that advancement doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. We can only assume with companies like Samsung, Google, Apple, Toshiba and Sony fighting for the “next big thing” we can only expect to see this trend to continue.

So far we have your dependency on technology (which doesn’t need you), the inherent expansion of computers, and robotic control over industry. Surely I am missing something, so factor that will keep us in command over our robot companions. Like, perhaps military might? Well, they have us there too. You see, the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle or UCAV are capable of serious damage. We have all seen President Obama’s fondness for them. For now they are kept strictly watched, piloted by men sitting at an air force base. That being said, they can go hours without being watched, and as such, are always being made smarter and smarter.

This leads me back to my original point. We’re becoming obsolete. As we build more and more robots, capable of doing a wider range if tasks, we start to see the need for human interaction.  Soon they will be able to redesign themselves, and with the advent of 3D printers, they will be able to do the rebuilding right on the spot. This said, it might not be that bad, after all, if robots replace us. One could go so far as to say i’ts mans way of going “I did enough damage to this planet, maybe its time to step back.”

That’s the Unpopular Science of Humans becoming Obsolete. If you have a discussion about the matter, feel free to post in the comments. Until next week, I’m David, Ciao.

Human Pain Tollerance Testing robot: http://www.geekosystem.com/robots-learn-human-pain-threshold/

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