Robots of Tomorrow
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This OZY series introduces you to the robots that will change how you live.
By Charu Sudan Kasturi
Will they improve our efficiency and relieve us from mundane tasks? Or will they replace us and take our jobs? For decades, these questions have framed the debate over robots. Today, with the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence surging ahead faster than ever before, we know that the answers to those questions are more complex than a simple yes or no. Robots can improve efficiency and replace us. They can relieve us from mundane jobs and also injure or kill us.
From self-driving cars to autonomous weapon systems, and bots that handle customer service to apps that mimic human interaction to help users battle loneliness, automation is a reality playing out all around us. But what’s next?
OZY’s latest original series, “Robots of Tomorrow,” explores the future of automation. From office spaces that come to you and machines that take care of your pets to automated waiters in poor nations and workout machines that double as fitness trainers, we’ll bring you stories that will prepare you for the ways in which robots will affect your life next. We’ll also tell you how robots can help you move your money in financial markets faster.
You hate the time it takes to commute to the coworking space where you’ve scheduled a meeting. But you’re uncomfortable calling professional contacts from home. Help is on its way. Literally. Autonomous, mobile offices and shops will soon be able to come to you. From Ikea-backed Space 10 to the Palo Alto–based Ideo, a new wave of companies is designing these driverless shops and offices that will fundamentally reverse the idea of the commute.
Even though restaurant robots have been around for a while, part of the reason they haven’t taken off globally is because they’re clumsy, distracting and more than a little intimidating. In Nepal, 26-year-old engineer Rabin Giri and his team are building advanced robots that make restaurant, bank and cinema experiences as seamless as possible. Unlike other restaurant robots, Giri’s creations converse with customers, put them at ease and then quietly dock on the side, allowing patrons to dine without interruption. In the process, Giri and his colleagues are putting Nepal — South Asia’s poorest nation — on the global tech map.
Robots are slowly taking over roles traditionally carried out by humans. That’s the traditional narrative. China, to simultaneously develop automation and protect domestic labor, is emerging as a world leader in “cobots,” collaborative robot technology (automated technologies that work hand in hand with human workers) aimed at smaller businesses. China’s cobot industry is growing by 110 percent a year against a global annual increase of 60 percent. Unlike robots, which usually have a well-defined role, cobots can be used for multiple tasks and are cheap, making them attractive for small and midsize industries, the backbone of the economy in China and many emerging economies.
Do you need a sitter for your dog? Or someone to scoop the poop while you spend precious minutes of your time meeting a deadline? Would you like to track your dog’s activity while you finally take that long-overdue vacation — and possibly speak with your pet while away? Pet product companies across the globe are increasingly developing robots that can tackle these needs. This is no Black Mirror episode. This is the reality.
The trainer sees you struggling and suggests a change. As you do better, the trainer shouts encouragement — “Awesome! There went 100 calories!” — before you move on to the next routine. Don’t thank her or him. Thank it — the trainer is a machine. A growing number of companies are using artificial intelligence to power health and fitness apps and workout machines, offering users a level of personalization unimaginable just five years ago.
We all know China is emerging as a leader in artificial intelligence. And yes, lax privacy laws may have helped. But there might be another reason too. The country’s collective-oriented Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Confucianism are better suited to artificial intelligence than Western individualistic thinking, which is more susceptible to panicked reactions, research suggests. There’s also a growing body of research that shows Eastern philosophies could make AI more ethical.
Thought Boston Dynamics’ robots were scary? Animal Dynamics, a British startup, develops insectlike flying robots for military applications. The company has raised 6 million pounds in funding. Leading its cutting-edge work is Chief Science Officer Adrian Thomas, a professor at Oxford University specializing in animal flight who’s also a champion paraglider and sailor.
It’s one of the most notorious terms in financial trading. T+2, or trade date plus two days, means that when a client buys or sells a security, it takes the brokerage firm two days to confirm all details of the transaction and complete the trade. That means your money, and billions of dollars globally, are in limbo every day. Who can fix this? Robots, or to be more specific: artificial intelligence using blockchain technology.
- Charu Sudan Kasturi, OZY Author Contact Charu Sudan Kasturi