IT Channel Expert caught up with Dr. Kevin Curran, senior member of the IEEE – the worlds largest professional association for the advancement of technology, to chat about robots in the workplace, why resellers should be offering AI as a service, and what the future holds of humanoid bots.
Do you think we will get to a point where businesses are outsourcing projects and workload to robots or AI?
Yes, the day of businesses outsourcing projects to robots could come sooner than we think. Take India for instance, the out-sourcing sector in India contributes a massive $69bn annually to India's economy and makes up no less than 25 per cent of its exports. Costs are climbing however due to high inflation and a skills shortage, which is pushing salaries and training costs higher.
This is also being repeated in other popular outsourcing territories like Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines. So the appeal of getting robots to carry out work is increasing.
We may see large warehouses on the edge of cities full of robots carrying out repetitive tasks in a much more efficient manner than currently. It must be remembered that robots do not go on strike, do not turn up late for work or take breaks. As long as they have power and people to repair them, then all is fine.
How long do you think it will be before humanoid robots are common in the workplace?
A true humanoid robot (or droid) would be a recreation of the human thought process – a man-made machine with our intellectual abilities. This would include the ability to learn just about anything, the ability to reason, the ability to use language and the ability to formulate original ideas. Roboticists are nowhere near achieving this level of artificial intelligence, but they have made a lot of progress with more limited AI. Today's AI machines can replicate some specific elements of intellectual ability.
Humanoid robots of course are robots which have human characteristics (e.g. Asimo from Honda) as opposed to say the robotic Rumba vacuum cleaner. Humanoids therefore would display a rich diversity of projects where perception, processing and action embodied in a recognisably anthropomorphic form in order to emulate some subset of the physical, cognitive and social dimensions of the human body and experience. AI is of course the mechanism that can drive all of this.
It will be a while before they are commonplace at work, but humans doing many tedious automated tasks have already become replaced so I see no reason why this trend will not continue. I also see the day when robotic cars will do our driving as well. I believe AI driven cars can do a better job. Google are leading the field in this area.
Can tech resellers and service providers offer robots and AI as a service?
Yes, tech resellers should be looking towards robots and AI as an additional service to offer. Of course, the scope of AI is huge. We tend to associate AI in its grandest form as a humanoid robot communicating with us as portrayed in movies such as Bladerunner.
The truth is more mundane but shows that AI software is running underneath all sorts of modern technological tasks from autopilot to the magnificent gyroscope ability of Segways. Anywhere that 'fast fuzzy type' decisions needs to be made – there is some artificial intelligence involved. In fact a simple search on Google is basically putting AI to work. Language, speech, translation, and visual processing all rely on machine learning or AI. Many of the leading AI researchers all work for Google. It is becoming the place to go for machine learning researchers.
Artificial Intelligence only gets better, it never gets worse. Any robot that has legged locomotion uses very sophisticated AI to be able to walk up stairs and steep inclines and over rough, uneven terrain. Likewise with arm control and dexterous manipulation so they can be able to perform dexterous tasks including catching balls, chopping vegetables, performing telesurgery, and pouring coffee.
What’s the most unusual thing that you think robots will be used for in the near future?
I do think the most unusual thing that robots will be used for is as companions. Robophilia (also known as robot fetishism or technosexuality) is the name commonly used to describe a fetishistic attraction to humanoid or non-humanoid robots. We have already seen the move by the adult industry to capitalise on the advances in Virtual Reality (VR) First Person View (POV) headsets such as the Occulus Rift and repurpose them for porn. In some ways that is an incremental move for society to deal with and can be seen simply as a different viewing experience.
We should also not presume that a robot/human relationship is automatically inferior to a human-human relationship. The simple fact is that people often fall in love with fictional characters even though they have no chance to interact with them in a physical way.
The issue of 'intimate robots' and the potential of Android-Human couples walking hand in hand through the streets and raising families does however cause us as a society to pause and think.
There may be questions about whether we have sufficient legalisation in place for the issues that can arise in a future where robots are sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from humans at first glance.
I would expect 'female' robots to first gain traction in China to offset the gender balance. We would be naive to ignore market forces for ‘intimate robots’. Building human-like robots is quite easy once the mechanics are taken care of.
Google are pumping hundreds of millions into building more advanced robots such as Petman. Turning these robots into attractive companions is simply adding a ‘skin’. This should not be hard. It has not being done to date as most robots are built in research led institutions – not businesses.
That time is coming to an end.
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