Category Archives: Robots

Who will own the robots?


Illustration credit: Joost Swarte.

David Rotman’s three-part article series in the MIT Technology Review asks important questions about the effects of software and automation on the economy. Do you think that today’s rapid advances in artificial intelligence and automation foreshadow a future in which robots and software greatly reduce the need for human workers? Are we facing a future with increased disparity and inequality due to the commercialization of technological innovation? Will the rewards of new technologies go largely to the very richest, as has been the trend in recent decades?

Part I (June 12, 2013): How Technology Is Destroying Jobs
Part II (Oct 14, 2014): Technology and Inequality
Part III (June 16, 2015): Who Will Own the Robots?

How do you respond to Robert Solow’s claim that, “any decent person should find having extreme poverty coexisting in the same society with extreme wealth immoral” in regards to the increasing gap between the super wealthy and everyone else in our world?

For example, the 2014 Global Wealth Report informs: “a person needs only USD 3,650 to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than USD 77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and USD 798,000 to belong to the top 1%. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets.”

We need to do better at intelligently managing and sharing our world’s resources. How does income inequality effect economic opportunity and innovation in our world? How do we share the wealth that technology creates? How do we create a technological world without greed? How do we work towards a prosperous technological future with human flourishing for all?


Move to create less clumsy robots


The robot being developed by the German Aerospace Centre

The race to create more human-like robots stepped up a gear this week as scientists in Spain set about building an artificial cerebellum. The end-game of the two-year project is to implant the man-made cerebellum in a robot to make movements and interaction with humans more natural. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls motor functions. Researchers hope that the work might also yield clues to treat cognitive diseases such as Parkinson’s. The research, being undertaken at the Department of Architecture and Computing Technology at the University of Granada, is part of a wider European project dubbed Sensopac. Sensopac brings together electronic engineers, physicists and neuroscientists from a range of universities including Edinburgh, Israel and Paris with groups such as the German Aerospace Centre. It has 6.5m euros of funding from the European Commission. Its target is to incorporate the cerebellum into a robot designed by the German Aerospace Centre in two year’s time. The work at the University of Granada is concentrating on the design of microchips that incorporate a full neuronal system, emulating the way the cerebellum interacts with the human nervous system. Implanting the man-made cerebellum in a robot would allow it to manipulate and interact with other objects with far greater subtlety than industrial robots can currently manage, said researcher Professor Eduardo Ros Vidal, who is co-ordinating work at the University of Granada. “Although robots are increasingly more important to our society and have more advanced technology, they cannot yet do certain tasks like those carried out by mammals,” he said. “We have been talking about humanoids for years but we do not yet see them on the street or use the unlimited possibilities they offer us,” he added. One use of such robots would be as home-helps for disabled people.

Robot arm holding small object

The aim is robots with a subtle touch

The next stage of the Sensopac project is to develop an artificial skin for robots, making them look more human-like as well as being information-sensitive in the same way as human skin is. This system is being developed by the German Aerospace Centre in collaboration with other research groups. The ambitious project is just one of many attempts to create more human-like robots. Another European research project – dubbed Feelix Growing – has been given 2.3m euros to develop robots that can learn from humans and respond socially and emotionally. The medical community is making huge strides in the use of man-made parts for failures in the human brain. Last year US scientists implanted a sensor in a paralysed man’s brain that has enabled him to control objects by using his thoughts alone. The fast pace of current robotics research has prompted deeper questions about how androids would be integrated into human society. Some have called for a code of ethics for robots while others question how humans will cope in the face of machine intelligence.


ASIMO falls down the stairs

From MAKE magazine this morning, a Google video of ASIMO falling down the stairs.