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Will robots take over the world?

Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2007, at 7:01 AM

Two Asimos, Honda's robot, proclaim...something. The accompanying press release doesn't say what they're excited about. (Honda photo)
"Baby, you can drive my car," the Beatles sang 40 years ago.

Before long, the two remaining Beatles can sing that to cars which drive themselves. Humans will simply be along for the ride.

One Lexus can already park itself. Some models of Mercedes (and maybe other brands as well) have adaptive cruise control systems that automatically speed up or slow down the vehicle with no involvement from the driver.

And automation's taking over more than just cars. Two automakers are manufacturing robots.

Toyota showed off a violin-playing robot last week.

"We want to create robots that are useful for people in everyday life," a company official said.

The Associated Press reports that wheelchair-like "mobility robots" -- also displayed Thursday by Toyota -- "would offer 'bed-to-bed' services to people, including the elderly and the sick, just like cars take people 'door-to-door.'"

That has an ominous tone. Suppose robots actually do take over nursing services. What happens to the human touch the sick and aged so seriously need?

For some reason (don't ask me why, because I don't know...) I read this and suddenly envisioned school cafeterias being totally operated by robots...

"With parts made in Japan, I am the modern man." -- from "Mr. Roboto" by Styx (songwriter Dennis DeYoung)

...And factories (already happening on assembly lines, especially at auto plants) and ... Tyson Foods.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto...For doing the jobs that nobody wants to..."

Eliminate people and you've eliminated such things as health insurance, bonuses and paychecks. And robots don't talk back.

"The problem's plain to see: too much technology...Machines to save our lives. Machines dehumanize."

This week Honda's introducing the updated "Asimo," which, according to AP, can "walk, even jog, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple conversations."

Last week Toyota showed off "Robina," who -- oops, which (it's not a "who" if it's not human, right?) -- can sign its own name.

"I am 120 centimeters tall and how much I weigh is a secret," she said. Yep, she definitely sounds like a woman -- and is reported to have a feminine voice.

Robots with genders. Wonder what would happen if Asimo (which is apparently male) and Robina secretly got together?

But it's a serious issue. First, jobs imported and workers imported. Next, workers everywhere replaced by robots. Then, what?

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

I believe that robots for certain aspects in life can be a positive thing. But I agree in the sense that it can dehumanize our society and create unemployment. I think it is kind of creepy that possibly in the future a robot can be taking care of my loved ones if they are elderly or sick.

-- Posted by ally13cat4 on Sun, Dec 16, 2007, at 7:28 AM

It is really amazing that roboengineering has come as far as it has. I wonder if all of those people who love to drive stick-shift will still be around in future generations with robot-controlled cars. Anyway, I am extremely excited about this information, and I am looking forward to the future... Back to the future.

-- Posted by WayneTheMainBrainMcClane on Sun, Dec 16, 2007, at 10:26 PM

I could not imagine our world being run by robots. It's actually kind of scary when you think of it. I would much rather be taken care of by a human than a robot. Humans have emotions and are a part of nature. I think technology would be going too far if robots started taking over human jobs such as health care. I think that it would be too costly and lead to high unemployment.

-- Posted by terayray on Sun, Dec 16, 2007, at 11:58 PM

I like the idea of robots working instead of people. There's nothing better (and when I say better I mean worse) then going to the toll booth and having some half-dead employee give you your change and not say thank you. Maybe if we adopt the usage of robots employees will realize what it means to have the proper customer service.

-- Posted by GeneralCuster on Mon, Dec 17, 2007, at 3:20 PM

I think that using robots by means of assistive technology for the elderly and people with disabilities is great and will prove to be very successful in the future. However, using robots for caring and nurturing purposes could potentially do more harm than good. We are already a disconnected society; robots will only make that worse.

-- Posted by EmilyL1221 on Mon, Dec 17, 2007, at 5:37 PM

I can actually see robots taking over the world and the human race becoming totally screwed over. Take a look at how we use robots now, to build our cars, toys, ipods. If we are able to produce robots that have their own self-will what makes us think they won't use us the way we use them and even worse exterminate the human race because they can do it better.

-- Posted by blazeNY on Mon, Dec 17, 2007, at 6:43 PM

I have actually seen this robot made by Honda on TV and it is so human-like its not even funny. It walks and moves like a human with almost full human-like movement in the joints. It danced and even did the moonwalk with ease. However, my initial reaction was "what would we need a robot for." But after thinking about it, robots would provide an easier way to get around for people with disabilities. Also I believe they will help the average person with daily activities. As long as robots do not take over the human way of living and completely get rid of the ways in which people make money to support themselves and their families, I feel robots could be very useful.

-- Posted by sammig on Mon, Dec 17, 2007, at 7:02 PM

I think that technology has made great advancements and there is no limit at this point with what we can do with technology. I think that the age of robots at this point is inevitable, and it is only bound to become the next big technological advancement. Robots will have it pros and cons but all we can do is wait and see.

-- Posted by cb736671 on Mon, Dec 17, 2007, at 7:27 PM

It is amazing how far technology has come. It is incredible how much robots are able to do these days. I think that robots can have a positive affect but I am uneasy at the thought of robots replacing a great amount of the daily human-to-human activity.

-- Posted by am3434 on Mon, Dec 17, 2007, at 7:54 PM

Let's hope they obey Isaac Asimov's Three Law of Robotics better than some of us heed the Ten Commandments.

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.

Later, Asimov added the Zeroth Law: "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm"; the rest of the laws are modified sequentially to acknowledge this.

(from Wikipedia)

-- Posted by quantumcat on Thu, Dec 20, 2007, at 2:24 PM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.