I, Robot
A number of people have written and sent this link for a new domestic robot called the NS-5. According to the site, the purpose of the NS-5 is to, "Provide Freedom.... With the NS-5 at your side 24/7 you'll have more free time for hobbies, recreation, friends and most importantly family." Among other things, the NS-5 knows 80 languages and can mow the grass, walk the dog, shop for groceries and do the laundry. The NS-5 will even handle your personal finances and file your taxes for you.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the NS-5 is currently science fiction. The web site, along with a movie trailer that looks exactly like an ad for a real robot, are part of an elaborate marketing campaign for the movie "I, Robot" which will debut in July 2004. The book "I, Robot" is a collection of short stories written by Issac Asimov.
In Asimov's short story called "Escape!", a thinking robot called "The Brain" is asked to design a hyperatomic space-warp engine. According to the story "There are no known limits to The Brain's capacity." The Brain has emotions, a personality, a moral code (the three laws), a sense of judgement and amazing computing powers. It has vision, language and so on. Pretty sophisticated stuff. When asked to design the first warp engine, The Brain says,
    "I can do it. I can build you the whole ship, just as easy -- if you let me have the robots. A nice ship. It'll take two months maybe."
And The Brain does just that. In two months The Brain invents the first warp engine and builds an entire ship around it. The ship works and travels 300,000 parsecs (about 1 million lightyears) on its first demonstration flight. The ship is completely automatic, and carries human passengers even though they have no control of the ship.

Robots like The Brain are not that far away. With robots able to invent, design, build and pilot space ships (and by extrapolation absolutely everything else), how does the economy work? How do people earn a living? The only way for an economy to work when robots are this capable is for the the economy to be completely different from the one we have in place in the U.S. today. The notion of "working for a living" -- the foundation of today's economy -- is meaningless when robots do all the work.

Domestic assistants like the NS-5 will be here in 30 years or so, mowing the lawn, walking the dog and filing taxes. What Asimov misses is that robots like the NS-5 will take 50% or more of the jobs in the U.S. As stated in the article Robotic Freedom:A robot with the capabilities of the NS-5 could handle any of these jobs. The article goes on:The question is, how are we going to change the economy to handle this inevitable robotic future? How are we, as a society, going to respond to this robotic revolution? If we handle it properly, the arrival of robots could be an incredibly beneficial event for human beings. If we do not handle it properly, we will end up with millions of unemployed people and a severe economic downturn that will benefit no one. Can we modify the American economy now to prevent this downturn? Are there things that we can do today to smooth the transition to the robotic nation? See these two articles for two different perspectives on a new economic foundation:[See also this]


Robotic Naval Ships
News about Naval Forces

From the article:This is a fascinating paragraph that basically says that fully armed autonomous robots are not that far away.

Segway Robotic Platform
Humanoid robots like ASIMO are the holy grail, but bipedal motion is still complicated and expensive. The humanoid chassis will not be a commodity item for several years. In the meantime, a new robotic platform is emerging that is small, fast and inexpensive. As discussed in these articles, the platform is based on the Segway:The Segway platform has at least four big advantages right now.Imagine, for example, talking helper robots that "walk" with you to find items in Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Imagine armed security guard robots. Imagine robotic nurses. And so on.

[See also Bots, humans play together]

Other Unemployment Pressures
Business Week: Corporate America's Silent Partner: India

From the article:And:This trend will continue to unemploy millions of white collar workers (software developers, engineers, designers) over the next 5 to 10 years.

There is also this article: CNN - The real boom

From the article:There is also this article: Money magazine: Vanishing Jobs:What is happening here is a "perfect storm" of unemployment. The loss of manufacturing jobs combines with the loss of white collar jobs and the loss of jobs to robots to create economic stagnation, and then massive unemployment, in the U.S. Meanwhile, corporate executives concentrate massive amounts of wealth.

In Robotic Nation I discuss the fact that robotic replacement of workers will not be the only form of unemployment pressure. It combines with this "irreversible mega-trend" of off-shoring. And it combines, as discussed in Manna, with the Wal-Martization of wages (e.g. - California grocery store strikes), to create a gigantic minimum-wage working class in the United States. This minimum wage class becomes massively unemployed with the arrival of service sector robots starting in 2015.



ASIMO came to Raleigh. Here's a short video to show the capabilities of this robot today.

ASIMO represents the state of the art in 2003, and it is spookily anthropomorphic when you see it with your own eyes. It is configured so much like a human being, and moves in such a human way, that your brain automatically ascribes human qualities to it. Note how the announcer in the video says, "Way to go ASIMO!", and note how the robot leaves the stage with its arms raised and the audience cheering.

10 years ago a humanoid robot like this was impossible. Think about the capabilities ASIMO will have 10 years from now. In 20 or 30 years, when ASIMO merges with a computer that has CPU power approaching that of the human brain, we will have created a second intelligent species. The economic ramifications of this new species will be remarkable, and we should start planning for it now.

[Postscript: On December 18, Sony announced that its QRIO humanoid robot can now run and jump. Click here and here for details. Photos and movies here.]



Robots replacing people

The rise of the machines

From the article:Japan is using a synthetic human -- a person who is completely computer generated -- as an on-screen presence and a member of the diplomatic corps. The advantages of synthetic humans are obvious. They can be far more attractive than normal humans, and they have none of the problems normal humans have with things like blemishes, bad hair days or aging. They will never get arrested on drug charges or for drunk driving. And corporations/governments can program them to say exactly what is desired.

"Virtual attractiveness" is a fascinating article on the kind of people that human beings find attractive. For example, the article points out that this photograph is not of a real person, yet most folks find her attractive:

Images of synthetic, perfect people are showing up more and more in the media. The article's main point is this: "Being surrounded by so much perfected beauty, it is not surprising that so many people are frustrated by their own appearance or that of their partners."

Off-the-shelf software packages like Facial Studio make it easier than ever to create realistic synthetic people.

Expect this trend toward synthetic people to accelerate rapidly and replace most human on-air talent. News anchors, reporters, weatherpeople, announcers, and eventually actors and actresses. We see the leading edge of it now. Extremely popular movies can be created without any human on-screen talent. Think about Toy Story, Shrek, Monsters Inc. and Nemo. The new movie Polar Express contains computer-generated people who look very realistic. In 10 years, synthetic people will be indistinguishable from real ones, and much more attractive.

[Related: On the cover of the January issue of Wired magazine is the blurb "How software killed the Hollywood stuntman". The article will be available online on January 7.]


An Overwhelming number of robots
Technology News: Japan's Robot Developers Go Linux

From the article:If Honda believes that robots will become its most important business, and if robots overtake the PC industry, that means that there will be more robots than there are cars or PCs today. Most of those robots will be taking jobs from people.

Over time, the economy may adjust to this new reality. But short-term, it is going to mean a lot of unemployment in every imaginable profession. Everyone from checkout clerks and customer service reps to teachers, doctors, nurses and construction workers will be out of their jobs and on the streets. See Robotic Nation for details.

Robots increasing unemployment
Still slow to hire here

From the article:On Friday, December 5, 2003, the government released its Non-farm Payroll numbers. With the GDP growing at an 8% to 9% rate, and profits up 30%, analysts were expecting the number of new jobs to start exploding. The number they expected for November was at least 150,000 new jobs. Instead, the economy produced an anemic 57,000 new jobs.

The stock market fell immediately on the news. The reason: investors realize that if the economy rebounds, but employment doesn't match the growth, we have a problem -- fewer consumers.

This problem -- known as "the jobless recovery" and exemplified by the article quoted above -- is exactly what you would expect in a robotic nation. Robots and other rapidly accelerating technologies take jobs faster than new jobs can be created. So employment stagnates -- that is what we are seeing today. Eventually unemployment will increase even as the economy grows. For example, there will be a day when robotic checkout lines, robotic sweeping machines, robotic shelf-stocking machines and so on allow Wal-Mart and every other retailer to lay off millions of workers all at approximately the same time. At that point, unemployment will increase significantly. At the same time, wealth will be concentrating significantly.

The question then becomes, what happens to this mass of unemployed workers? Because of the concentration of wealth, the alignment of the political process with wealth and the rise of robotic security forces, it is unlikely that the unemplyed masses will have any say in the outcome. Terrafoam housing, as described in Manna, seems like one increasingly probable path unless we begin taking action now to correct the imbalance.

Archives © Copyright 2005 by Marshall Brain
Atom RSS

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?