Our Terrifying Future: Working Stiffs

9 Mar

Rosie The Roboteer (artist unknown)

No slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed-man.

– Thomas Huxley

Below is a test for the Geminoid DK, a facial replica of Professor Henrik Scharfe, from Denmark’s Aalborg University. My understanding is that this was recorded early in the test cycle, and that the project is now focused on smoothing the bot’s motion out for a more natural feel.

Next, as those who’ve been reading the site a while already know, is the Petman, from my main roboticist-crushes, Boston Dynamics – the same people bringing us robotic attack kitties.

Interestingly, coinciding with their cheetah announcement, BD was also awarded a contract for a project named Atlas, a humanoid robot. While I can’t seem to locate a specified end-goal for the Atlas project, I suspect from the name that it’s meant as an agile carry-bot, a metal-man to hold the baggage while combat troops go about their major preoccupation of pointing guns at people.

Atlas’s predecessor, PETMAN, was built to test out chemical weapons protective suits for the Army by “walking, crawling and doing a variety of suit-stressing calisthenics” and “simulat[ing] human physiology.” – homelandsecuritynewswire.com

The last iteration of Petman - before the announcement of Atlas

The last iteration of Petman. (Taken before the announcement of Atlas.)

Do I think we’re a decade from seeing a war fought Terminator-style? No.

The thing is, though, that we’re eerily close – maybe not in ten years, but definitely in my lifetime.

People tend to project a lot of their own humanity onto non-living objects, and I’m left to wonder if I’ll name the unit that assists me in getting in and out of bed when I’m an old man.

That may seem like a bit of a leap, but this sort of technology tends to follow a relatively reliable chain: the military funds the research, law enforcement & fire departments adopt it, then it becomes a matter of public use.

How will we feel about having finally made true the old science fiction trope of the flabby masters ruling over a physically superior group of workers? I suspect a new breed of inferiority complex will spring up, but, on the other hand, our houses will be very tidy.

I also suspect market penetration will run something like the old TV and radio days. While we’ll have certainly heard of their military uses, our first live interaction with Son-Of-Atlas will likely involve passing a unit on the street as it’s walking its owner’s poodle. Next will come professional services, (Rent-a-Maidroid,) and then, eventually, it will be a matter of, “What, you guys don’t have a dishwasher robotic slave?”

Slave may sound like a harsh term, but there will definitely be some level of class system.

If you think it’s tough trying to get a bottle of hand-lotion onto an airplane, wait till you try and board with your automated man-servant. When your local bartender informs you that “we don’t serve their kind here,” you’ll have to accept it – you’d no more want a patron with a loaded gun in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey in the other, than you’d want a hyper-powerful neck-snapper, with a head full of buggy military software pirated from the internet, at the beck and call of an ill-tempered drunk.

It’s just a matter of time; how will you treat the drudge that is likely to out-survive you?
u-BOT 5 is a robot designed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts. - http://www.geekologie.com/2008/04/ubot_5_robot_designed_to_help.php

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