For centuries, humanity has dreamed of owning an army of robots that would do its bidding. In fact, the word “robot” itself comes from Eastern Europe where it literally means “slave” – a person who will work for nothing on your behalf. That dream, however, still seems a long way off. The problem with robots today is that they’re not very smart. They just do the same repetitive actions over and over again and are unable to adapt to their environment. Everything they do has to be programmed in first, making it impossible for them to do things spontaneously or on the fly.
It’s this inability to adapt to their surrounding environment which makes robots dangerous. Robots that work alongside humans cannot detect that they are there, and even if they could, they wouldn’t know whether what they were doing was hurting them or not. They’d just continue to do whatever they had been programmed to do, regardless. Companies like G2 Consultants have been dealing with the safety issues posed by robots working along humans for decades. The solution up until now is to have robots working in cages, protecting people from their indifference. But it’s not an ideal solution. Yes – nobody gets killed, but it also means that humans and robots can never work side by side. There will always be a barrier between the two.
Something is changing in the world of robotics. We’ve already seen the rise of so-called “mobile robotics” in the form of drones, self-driving trucks, and self-driving cars. These robots effectively work alongside people and are well on the way to doing so safely. But now the same high-technology, powered by artificial intelligence, is coming to the workplace. For the first time ever, people are able to work alongside robots in a factory safely.
There’s a lot of concern at the moment that robots are going to eat up all the low-paying factory jobs, leading to mass unemployment. But in the short term, the trend seems to be towards robots and people working alongside each other, making up for the other’s weakness. There’s a factory in Shenzhen, a large Chinese city, where humans and robots do just that. Robots get on with doing all the repetitive work. They’re able to work faster and more accurately than their human counterparts. But there’s a lot that they can’t do very well, like maintain themselves. As a result, the human workers who used to be on the assembly line now spend all their time repairing robots. Not only is the work better paid, but it’s also more interesting. And thanks to the increased productivity of the factory, it’s now able to employ more people than it did before.
Clever robots that won’t hurt people aren’t science fiction. They actually became a reality back in 2013 with the introduction of production line robot, Baxter. Unlike the car factory robots of old, Baxter is able to adapt to new situations, learn how to pick up and manipulate new objects and avoid humans – all without a human programmer having to tell it what to do. Soon, therefore, you could be working with a robot.