“Danger!…Run Will Robinson!… Danger!”
Those immortal words of warning were heard just about every week in an episode of the 1960’s television series “Lost in Space.”
They were spoken by the armflailing unnamed robot who accompanied the astronaut family on their ill-fated trip to Alpha Centauri. It couldn’t do much else, being just a “Class M-3 Model B9 General Utility, Non- Theorizing Environmental Control Robot.”
He (assuming it was a male) was antiquated compared to robots of the 21st Century.
According to Marshall Brain, author of the essay series “Robotic Nation,” there are a host of human jobs about to be taken over by robots. They include pharmacists, paralegals, drivers, astronauts, store clerks, soldiers, babysitters, rescuers and reporters! And that’s just the short list!
“Self-service systems are the beginning of the robotic revolution,” writes Brain. “When most people think about robots they think about independent, autonomous, talking images like the ones we see in science fiction films.
“Robots like these will come into our lives much more quickly than we imagine.”
Robotic development will happen so rapidly, says Brain, that by mid-century our society will be unrecognizable. He envisions a chronological view of the future:
By 2025 the first machines that can see, hear, and move and manipulate objects at a level roughly equivalent to humans will be in the marketplace.
By 2030 humanoid robots will take jobs previously held by people in the fast food, janitorial and housekeeping industries – working in hotels, motels, malls, airports, and amusement parks.
By 2055 Brain predicts over half the American workforce will be unemployed. The number will continually rise because of the proliferation of machines. Nearly every “normal” job filled by a human being back in 2001 will instead be filled by a robot.
Brain says robots, unless utilized carefully, will bring ruin to society. The masses of nonworking humans will overwhelm the charities and caregivers now in place.
“Run humans! Danger! Run Humans,” the cry might be.
Personally, I don’t think the changes will be that imminent, and certainly not in the next 40- 45 years.
Look at automated checkouts, for example. How many times do you have to run a bar code under the scanner before it receives it? Then, there’s some product that’s completely uncooperative and you need the assistance of the human clerk standing nearby.
Think about airport security. While it’s true that machines electronically scan the passengers, it still takes the soft hands of human touch to ‘pat down’ any suspicious-looking folks. Who wants the cold tentacles of a robot roaming under the elastic band of their underpants?
As for store clerks, how many of them already show robotic behavior in the way they deal with customers? Many keep their head down, and rely on the cash register to make proper change for them. I want a clerk, a human clerk, with aptitude AND attitude, even if they’re a little testy.
Nope, we’ve seen enough science fiction to be forewarned of a robotic takeover. I’d like to think the closest we’ll get to mechanized intelligence is a robot like Rosie from “The Jetsons” cartoon. She’s efficient and tireless, but has enough engineering to care about the emotions of her family. And she’s no feminine threat to George Jetson’s wife Jane.
So let’s set our sights a little lower, Mr. Brain. How about aiming for cars that never die, water that’s always clean, and cell phone signals that are always clear?
The robots can wait until the 22nd century.
About the AuthorIn addition to his musings in our paper, Mike Estrada can be heard weekday mornings from 6am-10am on WTOS-FM 96.7, 101.1, and 105.1. If you’d like to contact him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass along the message.
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