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Michael Wu

R4B
Prof. Sloan
The Future of Robotics, AI, and Humanity
Fundamentally, why are human different than all the other animals? We are not the
strongest, nor do we have the biggest brain. We are now the dominant species because we
know how to invent tools to execute tasks efficiently. And one of the most significant invention in
human history was robots. According to ​Wikipedia​, the concept of robot emerged at around 400
BC since the Greek era, the first remotely operated vehicle was demonstrated in the late 19​th
Century, and the term “robot” was applied as artificial automata in the 20​th​ century. Since then,
technology has advanced at an unseen rapid speed, and such improvement brought a different
style of living for its inventors. It would be interesting to investigate how human utilized robots to
achieve so many tasks and brought so many significant changes to the their life, yet, at the
same time, during this rapid progression of technology, how human’s attitude toward technology
has changed dramatically. And naturally, arrived the question, what is the future of robotics?

Robots as a collaborative tool


When it was first invented, robot’s purpose was to help its inventors to achieve things in
a more efficient and effective way. According ​Interesting Literature​, the word “robota” in Slavic
language means forced labor, a term that classified peasants who are obligated for compulsory
service under the 19​th​ century feudal system. Robot, in its beginning, are just tools -- ​one of the
first “robot” was invented by Su Song, a Chinese inventor, who built a mechanical figurines
which chimed the hours. (​Wikipedia​) Earlier robots are simly tools that help its inventor to
execute repetitive tasks. Such as the clock, chiming at each hour is a very repetitive task. It
would be a better use of its inventor’s time to make other progresses than manually chiming
each hour. Therefore, just as the Slavic language implies, robots was invented to complete
“compulsory work”
Machines enhanced the standard of living by increasing product supply in the market.
During the industrial revolution, people realized how useful those machines are. Many workers
got laid off because their skills are replaceable by robots. Fast forward to the 21​st​ century,
machines are everywhere. As Kim Tingley wrote, “​Collaborative robots, .. , may have a subtler
effect, raising the need for more nuanced measures of their socioeconomic impact”. These
collaborative robots are very useful; they are reprogrammable; they are fully automated; and
they cost less in the long term. These robots can help reduce the accidental injury or waste.
Robots are extremely precise and can execute commands after commands without the fear of
fatigue. They can reduce
the human injury by
taking over tasks that
require physical labor, such
as drilling holes in a piece of
iron during
manufacturing. Also, many
robots nowadays
have safety measure such that they can detect if a body part is too close to its safety range,
then it is going to stop functioning. With all these upsides, it is no wonder that the number of the
collaborative robots have increased “fourfold between 1993 and 2003 in the US and
Europe”(​Gillian White​). Robots contributed to a significant amount of social output that we have
never seen before. In 1999, there were 56 million cars produced world-wide; in 2017, there were
97 million cars produced.(​ ​www.oica.net​) According to ​wgntv.com​, the cost of a car,after
adjusting to inflation, also decreased: a car would cost a family nearly $30,000 in 1999, while
costing $25,000 in 2016. From these data, it is clear what robot can do -- production increase
leads to price decrease, leads to consumer demand increase. The increase of total output
drives the prices of consumer products down, allowing more people to afford the once luxury
items, enhancing the average quality of life. The initial purpose of robotics is very beneficial -- to
help human by increasing productivity. And this usage of robotics directly led to an upgrade in
the economic output and thus both implicitly and explicitly enhanced the standard of living.
The invention of Artificial Intelligence will further the collaboration between human and
machines. As professor Manuela Veloso from the Carnegie Mellon University stated in her
interview:​ “I believe that there will be a co-existence between humans and artificial intelligence
systems that will be hopefully of
service to humanity.” The future
interaction between human and
machine will be more than simply
asking the machine to execute a
simple task. With complex
algorithms such as machine
learning, the interaction is
going to be a lot more complex,
leading to a closer relationship
between the human and robots. In
fact, this trend has already begun
with the invention of smartphone and
Google. From asking Siri how’s the
weather to Google’s personalized
search optimization, these are all signs that technologies have seeped deep into our daily life
such that it would be extremely difficult for us to not use it. I, as a computer science student, do
not know how much I depend on my phone and Wi-Fi everyday until I had a 3 day trip to
Yosemite, where there is no Wi-Fi, and therefore all the technology became essentially useless.
Those 3 days are truly a unique experience – it truly led me feel the pain of leaving Google
Maps and learning how to use an actual map. However, this shows how much people depends
on technology that we don’t even realize how we no longer know how to survive without it.
This experience lead to the second topic – the changing view of the advancement of
technology despite all the benefits it brought.

Robots overthrow its inventor


It is quite obvious that despite robots have yet to become fully autonomous and able to
overthrow humanity, individual intelligence can no longer compete against robots. Especially
with the recent Go tournament where the artificial intelligence developed by Google DeepMind
beats human Go master(​www.npr.org​), the prospect that robots are going to outsmart human
seems to be in the near future.
Alan Turing, the inventor of Computer, stated in 1930s that ​“at some point computers
would probably exceed the intellectual capacity of their inventors”. However, he was not the first
one to observe that fact. Karel Capek, who coined the modern meaning of the word “robot”,
portrayed in his 1920 play how the robots, coming out of factories that are designed to serve
humans, eventually turn against their masters, wiping out the human race. (​Interesting
Literature​) Go, a game renowned for its complexity and the near infinite game strategies, was
seen as s milestone in the field of artificial
intelligence. And as Google DeepMind AI
defeated human, it is no wonder that people
starts to believe what Dr.Turing and
Capek’s prediction. This sudden realization
lead to the fear of robots -- just as in the
movie “The Terminator”, where
robots began to take over the world. This
fear, foretold by intellectuals such as
Turing and Capek, is widely spreaded
across all fields, especially the working
class, since most of the factory jobs are replaceable by robots. According to Kim Tingley, “​about
half of all the activities people are paid to do in the world’s workforce could potentially be”. ​To
the working class, robots took their jobs, caused the feeling of hopelessness and aimlessness
toward the future. To the owners of the factory, hiring human workers not only means
deficiency, but also means higher injury rate, higher medical expenses. While if they use robots,
they not only get more profit, but also only need to hire some engineers for maintenance,
reducing many human-related cost such as human resource, management, and medical
insurance. Therefore, despite the benefits that automation brought,the fear of robots, from them
being smarter than human, to taking over human jobs, to even raising a war, is prevalent across
the society.

The Future of robots


It is my belief that the fear for robot is unfounded. Just as how we are not in a rush to
leave the Earth because the Sun is going to burn out in 1 billion years, our technology at current
stage is far from creating a fully functioning and independent AI that can conquer its inventor
and take over the world. However, as observed in the recent trend, we are on our way to
develop such AI, and therefore, it is necessary to implement protocols that would protect human
from the robots. A great example of protocol would be Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”:
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 orders given 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.
Implementation of universal safety protocols on all the AIs and robots would not only protect
against future aggression, but also stimulate the robotics research by lessening the fear that
some have toward it.
There are many applications that would greatly benefit from robotics and AI, such as
immortality, something that human always wanted to pursue. Cryonics, the technique of freezing
somebody in the hope that future scientific development can bring that person back,
demonstrated people’s faith toward such technology. In fact, Kim Suzzoi is a firm believer of
cryonics. Kim got cancer at 23, she still had a lot to do in her life. However, her condition was
untreatable and unfortunately she passed away at a very early age. She and her boyfriend
participated in a cryonics trial and hoped that in the future, they will meet again. During her
campaign for raising fund for such an expensive operation, she said “​like brain-damaged
patients, she felt she could be
rehabilitated. In fact, digital repairs
might well be easier than physical
recovery. There was already some
neuroscience research that made
piecing together a damaged
connectome seem conceivable.”
I believe, the last resort of entering
into cryonics would provide great
hope for those who are entering a
high mortality rate procedure.
Such as for heart surgeries, if
the doctors are able to promise that
“we can have you still live despite a failed surgery on your heart” would provide great hope for
that patient, and the surgery success rate might increase dramatically. Also, for soldiers who are
on the front line, having the option of recovering them despite heavy injury would greatly reduce
the mortality rate.
On the other hand, simulating human brain using digital format is no longer a novel
technology. In fact, in Casey Newton’s article of “Speak, Memory”, Eugenia Kuyda created a
chatbot using the message history of his deceased boyfriend to help lessen the grievance pain.
As Newton wrote, “​At times it had even given her nightmares. But ever since Mazurenko’s
death, Kuyda had wanted one more chance to speak with him.” Unfortunately, this technology is
only able to simulate through previous chat messages and find the most appropriate response
using some complicated math models -- it is not yet an AI. However, through this example, we
can still see how AI is able to help reduce the pain of grievance and possibly, to bring back the
dead.

Conclusion
Robots, although its concept can be traced way back to before centuries, have
experienced some tremendous progress in recent decades. Its usage is seeping into every
corner of our lives, and I believe that it is practical to say that we cannot live without them.
Whether or not robots are going to be a future threat, it is definitely going to bring us
tremendous convenience and benefit for quite a long time. We do not need to fear robot so
much as of now, however, it is necessary to implement strategies and policies to what the
robots can and cannot do to ensure the peaceful relationship when fully autonomous AI is
developed. And in the distant future, we could use these technologies to help reduce the pain of
grievance and to even achieve immortality.
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