Would you trust a robot?

In a previous post, I mentioned that people need people; one way or the other, humans will be taking care of each other even when robots have become much more useful than they are now.

Still, I do not believe it is unethical for a robot to be taking care of a human being. It could be helpful in many ways. For instance, if a carer is not the strong type and the dependent needs moving, say from a bed to a wheelchair and back. A strong load-bearing robot could help with that task.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe we are at a point where we can allow robots to make independent decisions when it comes to health care. We could have them help us make the decision, act as a guide or get them to help sorting out facts and figures. However, at the end of the day, the decision should still be up to human carers.

Robots, definitely, can help take care but that does not necessarily mean that they care themselves. That will require a much higher level of artificial intelligence. At this time, to do the jobs they can do for healthcare, they do not need to care.

As for how we will choose, I think it will ultimately depend on the level of care and the type of care that a human requires. Standards will have to be set but I don’t think this is something we can fit in a one-size-fits-all decision table. Those standards will only be there to guide us but we will still have to fit them to the needs of a patient.

The biggest issue I can see to using carer robots is resistance to technology. We can already see that the elderly will be the very first ones who could use some help from robots, when the technology markedly improves. However, it is also a fact that the elderly are not usually the first ones to adapt new technologies. So, we will have to find a way to introduce robots to healthcare in such a way that the elderly will not be repulsed by the shiny new nurse trying to take care of them.

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Robotics and the future

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Robots are still not in the form they can become. I’m sure we all acknowledge that. Since designers and engineers generally model robots after the real world, I am sure we will see some robots taking on “natural” forms and, quite likely, even surpassing the capabilities of nature.

Speaking of dangerous situations, I would not be surprised if, at some point in the future, we will have robots fighting the wars of humans for them while human soldiers stay at a safe remote location operating and commanding the soldier robots. It will also not be surprising if such robots are already in development today. The military did make a request for Iron Man-like suits for their soldiers to wear.

On a brighter side of things, robots will become more helpful to us in the future. They will be able to come up with even more accurate diagnostics for patients, maybe perform surgeries on their own. They will be able to better interpret laws so that human lawyers do not have to battle it out themselves anymore. They will be able to transport us better than human drivers can. They will help us get much deeper down the oceans and under the earth. They will help us go further out in space.

As for what my role will be in all these, I hope to be part of the groups of people which are building these things that we envision to be the future of robotics.

Will robots take our jobs?

The short answer: Yes.

It is another one of the inevitabilities that will be brought to us by technology. One way or the other, robots will be taking over human jobs.

  • What jobs have already disappeared because the technology became obsolete and was replaced?
    Lots of repair jobs, especially in technology have come and gone. For instance, repair jobs for CRT’s. I am certain that there was a time when they were in high demand, both in the fabrication and repair. However, as LCD’s and LED’s came into being, these people would have had to acquire new skills to remain relevant or need to be replaced.

    I’m certain the same can be said of many other manufacturing jobs, in general. In a lot of ways, it is simply the better idea for many companies to automatize production, thereby taking jobs away from people.

  • Which jobs do you foresee might be made obsolete?
    Based on the “Humans Need Not Apply” video, I can see that many jobs will be made obsolete. Even doctors and lawyers are not on the safe side. Basically, you will only be not replaceable if you are at the top.
  • How do we future-proof ourselves against becoming obsolete?
    The only way to future-proof ourselves would be to keep ourselves updated, not just in the news but also in terms of keeping our skills up to date so that we do not ever have to lose any job to any robot.
  • Are there certain jobs that should stay solely in human hands? Why?
    If there are jobs that should stay solely in human hands, I believe it would be jobs in the care industry, i.e. nursing. As much as we try to make robots into humans, people need people. So, one way or the other, we should, and probably will, take care of each other even if robots are already the norm.

Privacy and Safety

  • How do you feel about the growing number and sophistication of robots in our society?

    At this time, I am not yet very concerned about them in terms of privacy and safety. On the contrary, I am actually rather excited for when robots become the norm. It’s either a far off time yet or maybe it’s soon. I can’t be certain yet but I’m looking forward to it.

  • Who should own and use robots?

    For now, I do not see any reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to own and use robots. (Unless, we’re talking about weaponized robots. That’s a different story altogether.) At some point, though, I believe it will be as important to register robots as we do now with cars and other motor vehicles.

  • Should we try to govern their production and use?

    As for production and use, we should try to regulate them. At some point. Though, I don’t believe we’re already at that point. At least, not yet.

  • What might be the consequences of misuse?

    There could be too many consequences for misuse. Too many to write down, in fact.

On Asimov’s Robot Laws

Are the laws sufficient? Are there any cases that these laws do not cover? Could they lead to undesired consequences?

The basic idea of Asimov’s three robot laws is that robots must protect humans from harm and robots can only protect themselves as long as this protection does not harm humans.

In terms of language, these three laws are quite possibly the simplest one there is. No jargon, no complicated words, all plain language. For most cases, simplest means best. The same seems to apply in this case.

For now, it would probably be safe to say that these laws are mostly sufficient and there aren’t many cases which these laws cannot cover. One thing to note about these laws, though, is it does not include anything about decision points, i.e. how does a robot tell which human to save when a robot is placed in a situation where a robot must enact and protect the First Law and there are a number of humans who are about to come to harm.

In any case, should we reach the point where robots have enough function and intelligence to interact well with humans, what will matter more than these laws themselves is their implementation.

A lot of things can go wrong and, most of the time, laws aren’t enough. Even humans cannot deal with the myriad laws put over our heads and many people have the job of finding ways around them.

How much we want to protect each other will matter more than how much robots will want to protect us.

The Three Robot Laws

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

– From Isaac Asimov‘s Runaround (1941)

Speaking of “almost too human”, in Cory Doctorow’s Magic Kingdom, people do not have to die anymore. If something fatal should happen to a person, all that needs to be done is to grow a clone then “restore from backup”. Somehow, this makes people essentially just data. Does that make those people not really people anymore but just robots?

Who’s your favorite robot?

I do not know very many robots, fictional or real, so I can’t say much. I would have said WALL-e and the way WALL-e is trying to save humanity but then I remembered Baymax. It is almost scary how Baymax acts almost too human but that part is also something to look forward to.

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Image Source: Baymax and Hiro

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