New roles for technology: Rise of the robots – Economist

Great cover story and special report in the new Economist on a topic we have been all over.  See here, here, and here.  Make sure you at least catch the cover story.

Money quotes from the Economist article:

…The biggest robot news of 2013 was that Google bought eight promising robot startups. Rich and well led (by Andy Rubin, who masterminded the Android operating system) and with access to world-beating expertise in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, both highly relevant, Google’s robot programme promises the possibility of something spectacular—though no one outside the company knows what that might be. Amazon, too, is betting on robots, both to automate its warehouses and, more speculatively, to make deliveries by drone.

… Aerial robots—drones—may be in the vanguard here. They will let farmers tend their crops in new ways, give citizens, journalists and broadcasters new perspectives on events big and small (see article), monitor traffic and fires, look for infrastructure in need of repair and much more besides.

…Just as employment in agriculture, which used to provide almost all the jobs in the pre-modern era, now accounts for only 2% of rich-world employment so jobs in today’s manufacturing and services industries may be forced to retreat before the march of the robots. Whether humanity will find new ways of using its labour, or the future will be given over to forced leisure, is a matter of much worried debate among economists. Either way, robots will probably get the credit or blame.

…But robots will not just animate the inanimate environment. They will inhabit it alongside their masters, fulfilling all sorts of needs. Some, like Baxter, will help make and move things, some will provide care, some just comfort or companionship. A Japanese robot resembling a baby seal, which responds amiably to stroking and can distinguish voices, seems to help elderly patients with dementia.


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