This post is a commentary on the article “The Robots Are Coming — Aren’t They?” written by Rob Daley, CEO of 4moms for Techcrunch on Jan 17, 2015.
Rob Daley wrote a great article on Techcrunch the other day, about the future of robotics. He argues against the generally accepted idea that in the future, humanoid robots will help us by doing a variety of tasks. He thinks that’s unrealistic because a) the engineering challenge is too great, and b) the trend seems to be towards devices that do specific tasks, not all tasks. In other words, we have smart thermostats and (soon) self-driving cars, and that’s what’s right for us, not a robot that adjusts the thermostat for you or drives you to work.
The article really made a lot of sense to me. But there more I thought about it, the more I thought about another angle: the angle of what we really need, versus what’s possible and where we’re doing.
Yes, I can see how building a truly humanoid robot is an awesome engineering challenge… but wouldn’t it be incredible if there were one central hub—yes, a humanoid robot—what we could just send all of our commands to? Why would I want to go adjust the thermostat and buy a self-driving car… when a robot could adjust the thermostat in my house or my hotel or my country cabin, and drive me to work in whatever car I happen to have at my disposal? Wouldn’t that just be the pinnacle of convenience? If that happened, then I wouldn’t have to buy a million smart devices. I would only need one.
People already do this at work when they hire help. We don’t hire people to do a certain task. We hire people to do a multitude of tasks—both current tasks, and future tasks that don’t even exist yet. Our employees have to be adaptable. They’re there to make things more efficient. They think ahead for us so we don’t have to think about every single detail. They help the system and they interact with it in many ways. They don’t just flip hamburgers or develop financial projections, even if that’s their job description.
So yes, the engineering required to make a robot is years away. But that’s where we need to get. Because that’s what we need. I want a robot to pick up my kid from school if I’m running late. And make supper. And turn off the lights at night. And figure out what to do if there’s an unforeseen issue. And I don’t want to have to tell 6 machines to do that. I want to tell one machine to do that.
Make my life easier. Give me less machines to manage. Not more.
A lot of technical challenges seem impossible. Light years away. But then again, we humans are really good at surmounting impossible obstacles. I hope that means that one day, I’ll have a robot butler who can handle the dreary minutiae of my life so I can spend more time with my wife and kids.