The word ‘Robot’ first appeared in 1921, in Karel Capek’s play ‘Rossum's Universal Robots’. “Robot” comes from the Czech for “forced labour.” In the play they looked like humans, were far more efficient and eventually caused the extinction of the whole human race. Inspiring stuff!
Cut to 2019, and our main fears from robots is that are going to steal our jobs. Take San Francisco, for instance, which is exploring the idea of a robot tax, forcing companies to pay up when they displace human workers. In reality, you may be more likely to work alongside a robot in the near future than have one replace you. This idea of multiplicity sees robots working in tandem with us, allowing people to focus on the more rewarding human elements of jobs.
Robots have remained largely confined to factories and labs, where they either rolled about or were stuck in place lifting objects. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Honda started up its humanoid robotics program. It developed P3, which could shake hands, wave, bow and walk pretty well. The world was captivated by the possibilities.
What humanity has done is essentially invented a new species. Increasingly sophisticated machines may populate our future world, but for robots to be really useful, they’ll have to become more self-sufficient. Crucially they will need to learn on their own, which is where advances in artificial intelligence are bridging this gap. Until then, we will have to continue doing the less rewarding human elements of our jobs.