Why you should care
Because robots will change the way we live, drive, shop and fight.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? The historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is still standing despite a ferocious blaze that broke out on Monday and almost brought it down to its foundations. The 800-year-old church can thank, in part, a creation squarely from this century: the robot Colossus, a 1,100-pound tank look-alike that was able to go where firefighters couldn’t, firing 660 gallons of water per minute to help douse the flames. This was just the latest instance of how robots of all shapes, sizes and purposes are reshaping our lives — everything from how we sleep, eat and drink, to the way we shop, travel and, yes, defend ourselves and the things that matter most to us.
Why does it matter? Humanity has always grappled with the delicate balance of allowing technological improvements to change the world — and keeping them from replacing us in the process. But the truth is that artificial intelligence and robotics have a potential that’s more nuanced and complex than simply helping or harming us. OZY’s original series, the Robots of Tomorrow, explores these possibilities and predicaments. From dog-sitting machines and automated waiters to robots that manage your money and help you get a six-pack, the future will be mechanized.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Happy cobot, happy life. The narrative around automation is that it will replace the need for humans. But in China, scientists are pioneering “cobots,” or collaborative robot technologies, that are meant to help employee-strapped small businesses add intellectual (and, perhaps, physical) muscle to their team. The Chinese cobot market is expected to reach $190 million by 2020, and demand for WALL-E–type workers is predicted to increase tenfold from 2015 to 2020. You don’t have to a rich, bustling country like China to benefit either. In remote, mountainous Nepal, one innovative restaurateur has taught her robots to “converse” with customers, telling jokes in English and avoiding the clumsy, intimidating stares of earlier attempts at food industry bots.
Machines make life less of a chore — and could even get you a job. The latest revolution in automated vehicles will allow you to make longer commutes to bigger cities with more opportunities. Eventually, self-driving cars could even bring a mobile office to your doorstep. Worried about Fido getting lonely while you’re at the office? Robots are invading the pet industry, with devices that can babysit your pets, feed them and even pick up their poop for you. Worried about missing Fido too much? You can always video call … again, with the help of your pet-sitting robot.
Still, robots shouldn’t make you lazy. Infact, they can make you fitter, cheaper. Imagine a personal trainer that not only tells you where to stretch and when, but can also tell you how many calories you burned. Not just on the treadmill, mind you, but while doing push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts and arm curls. Munich-based Freeletics, American fitness giant Nautilus, Boltt Sports in India and FitWell in London are all offering AI-inspired regimens. Need some extra motivation not to veg out on your couch? Silicon Valley startup Tonal has a wall-attached fitness system that will call you out, telling you exactly what weight to lift and how to change your routine to get stronger.
But look out for death from the skies. If you thought that Boston Dynamics robot dogs opening doors was scary, imagine fly-sized drones. That is the Black Mirror–esque vision of Adrian Thomas, a British paragliding champion turned Oxford professor, who is using biomechanics (the study of how animals fly and move) to create some truly terrifying military insects. While his company charter says they will only be used for reconnaissance (and won’t be weaponized), it’s not hard to imagine others having fewer qualms.
WHAT TO READ
The Complete History and Future of Robots, by Matt Simon in Wired
Modern Robots are not unlike toddlers: It’s hilarious to watch them fall over, but deep down we know that if we laugh too hard, they might develop a complex and grow up to start World War III.
White-Collar Robots Are Coming for Jobs, by Richard Baldwin in the Wall Street Journal
“Amelia and her kind are not enhancers of labor productivity — like faster laptops or better database systems. They are designed to replace workers. They are not as good as human workers, but they are significantly cheaper.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Meet “Colossus,” the Robot Firefighter That Battled the Notre Dame Blaze
Watch with Le Parisen in YouTube:
Robot newscaster unsettles Russian state TV viewers
”The humanoid can answer questions and hold a conversation based on data uploaded into its brain, while 29 motors in its silicon face allow it to mimic emotional expressions.
But not everyone appreciated these abilities.”
Watch on The Telegraph:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Let’s make robots ethical … with Eastern philosophies. Futurists have long struggled with how to create a philosophical system that keeps artificial intelligence from killing us all. But rather than invent a new morality, technologists should harness centuries of spiritual thought … by embracing philosophies such as Buddhism and Confucianism. There is a growing body of research that collective-oriented Eastern influences could be healthier than the rapacious individualism of Western thought.