Here’s an interesting, if not very in-depth, segment on robots from an AOL series called The Future Starts Here. The Future Starts Here is the work of internet pioneer and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain and is a show that seeks to “explore what it means to be human as we rush head first into the future.” In the following episode, Shlain is joined by her husband, Cal Berkeley professor of robotics Ken Goldberg.
Check it out:
Very clever visuals and some really easy-to-understand, perhaps simplistic discussion. But okay, what’s interesting here?
Well, first of all, Goldberg and Shlain make the point that the general emphasis of robotics is increasingly on robots that provide personal assistance to humans. “Robots that are more like companions than tools” is the way Shlain puts it. And I think that it’s becoming apparent, as robot development advances, that the killer app for robotics is social robotics in all its various forms. I’ll even go as far as to say the killer app for artificial intelligence is social robotics. People are going to pay more and more in the future for truly smart machines to help them with their lives and to generally keep them company.
The second interesting point here is the “cloud brain” idea. The cloud is enabling robotics, as all the memory and processing power does not need to necessarily reside in an individual robot. The tremendous opportunity to leverage the cloud and general internet of things technologies is driving a new wave of robots in development and commercialization. Aldebaran‘s robot Pepper, as an example, uses a “cloud AI” application to store and process data, to in effect “learn.”
Finally, there’s Goldberg’s point that robots are interesting because they make clear the gap between what machines can do and what humans can do. To put it another way, how far our technology lags behind nature. Or in Goldberg’s words, robots remind us “how amazing we are.” Well, it’s nice to have a little species pride, of course, but that gap seems likely to close more and more in coming years. Will we still love robots then? I think it all depends on how good they become as companions.