From the black and white “Metropolis” from the mind of Fritz Lang, to the scary “B Movies” of the 1950s, and even the more modern films that transport us Back to the Future, we have witnesses the fictional world taken over by robots.
The dystopian novel by George Orwell painted a bleak version of the then future, now past world when 1984 was published in 1949.
Our gadgets, home electronics, cooking tools, automatic lighting control, central heating, cars – we could go on – are all signs of how technology has made our lives easier, but at what cost?
Perhaps the price we will pay for these conveniences is life itself, from human evolution to human extinction, as the fiction that entertained us mixes with our hyper-convenience times and it becomes a reality that robots do take over the world.
It might seem a little farfetched, as it was when we saw life in the movies, but as you sit and read this article, perhaps drinking a cup of coffee made by a pod-loaded machine which saves us the time it takes to scoop a teaspoon of coffee and mix it with water and milk, maybe enjoying a biscuit that was manufactured on an automated production line, on an electronic device that was also most likely built by these robots we are referring too, where do humans fit into the picture?
Well, let me firstly reassure you that I, the person writing this, am indeed a human, but of course I have to use technology to get these words from my mind to yours. The same cannot always be said for these articles however. It will come as no surprise to you that during the 2016 election coverage in America, the Washington Post covered the proceedings in great detail. However, using a piece of computer software called Heliograph, approximately 850 articles were created, written and published automatically, without the need for a human writer at all. Those articles were written by a robot.
I will let you take a sip of coffee and a biscuit whilst you let that fact sink in. Meanwhile, as we are talking about food and drink, let me give you another little fact to ponder. Yes, okay, our biscuits may be mass produced on a production line, but we still need farmers to create the raw ingredients, don´t we? Well, although it is currently growing lettuces, there is a farm in Japan which is run entirely by robots. It provides a sterile environment for them to grow, and each one is no doubt as equal and identical as the next – draw a picture of a scene from 1984 involving lettuces if you like – but does it work? Well, of course it does. Taking away the humans and let robots do the work increased productivity by 1,000%, meaning that the 50,000 lettuces harvested each day by the humans was dwarfed by the 500,000 that the robots could produce, every single day.
Don´t let the future you worry if you don´t like lettuce, there´s always take away, or, more to the point, home delivery. Placing the order, perhaps in person, or by telephone, or on an app, or a website does mean we have some involvement still, and the anticipation of waiting for the delivery driver will still be there in our future-now world, but ordering a burger in Iceland (the country) recently didn´t bring a moped to your door, but rather a drone carrying your food. UberEats plans to make this the norm, but not for some time at least, their target is the year 2021.
We might have begun by thinking a robot-run world is a bleak and desolate place, void of human emotions and contact, but there is another side to it.
Returning to the subject of farming, there are some positive factors that benefit the environment. GrowBot, for example, plants trees ten times faster than a human, and at half the cost, and are capable of selecting the best location for their saplings to grow, hopefully at a rate faster than humans can cut them down, and hopefully able to repair the damage we have subjected the planet to (Source: Betway’s man versus machine).
RangerBot is another device that has a positive use. It is currently being used on the Great Barrier Reef, covering fourteen times as much reef as a human can in a year, removing invasive species, monitoring water quality, and checking for pollution.
Considering the positive environmental impact, maybe the bleak picture I painted of a world run by robots isn´t as bad as we might think. In the medical world, robots are also performing miracles on the detection of disease and infection. In fact, one device is capable of detecting cancer risks even before symptoms appear, and thirty times faster than a human doctor, with 99% accuracy.
On the subject of cancer, remember the days of the Microsoft paperclip? I am not suggesting the paperclip was a cancer and although “he” might not hassle us computer users like he used to, Microsoft has vowed to solve cancer within 10 years, by “reprogramming” cancerous and diseased cells. Perhaps we will see a return of the paperclip, “It looks like you might have cancer!”
If we long for the days when paperclips were part of a packaged correspondence, sent with the love that our robots can´t provide, at least we can still look forward to receiving a letter through the post, hand delivered by our friendly postal worker. Well, to conclude, not if Amazon has anything to do with it. Already employing 100,000 robots in its warehouses globally, they too want to take the human factor out of the delivery chain, not because they have anything against humans of course, their bosses are of our species after all, but because it simplifies and speeds up the process for the end user.
We are the end user, the ones demanding faster service, butter quality, consistency and convenience. Is it thanks to us, humans, that the future is now and robots are here to stay, and whilst they are being programmed to write music, poetry, newspaper articles, drive cars, fly planes, and carry out the menial tasks so we don´t have to, does it mean that all we might to do as humans to do is sit back, relax, with food and drink in abundance, prepared and delivered by robots, as we no longer have to get up to go to work, in a pioneering future where we are the higher intelligence, we are humankind, we are left with…