Human shaped robots that are capable of independent thought and mobility so they can perform tasks for us around the home or job site have been fodder for science fiction writers for several decades. The public seems fascinated by the idea of a robotic servant. But is there any real hope that such a thing is possible, and if so is it safe? After all, many of those same sci-fi movies and books are about robots that run amok. Do we really need or want such a possibility in our home?
This is part one of a three part series of articles. Part one looks at our need for robots, part two will explore what robotic science has for us today, and part three will look at the near and foreseeable future of robots. For the far-off future of robots, pick up any good robots sci-fi book!
Why We Need Robots
The greatest factor that drives the race to develop robots capable of serving people in a meaningful way is not, as Sci-Fi would have it, to allow mankind more time for leisure or to relieve us from dangerous tasks like fighting wars, exploring space or mining uranium but because the population of the world is aging faster than the birth rate and the workforce available to serve this aging population is shrinking rapidly. Japan and Korea are in the worst shape, but the phenomenon affects most of the world.
Reuters.com reports; “By 2055, two out of five Japanese are expected to be 65 or older, double the current figure, the Japanese government estimates.”
The O.E.C.D. reports: “Korea’s population is aging rapidly. Currently, it has one of the youngest populations out of all OECD countries but by the middle of this century it will have one of the oldest, just behind Japan, Italy and Greece. In 2050, more than one-third of the population will be over the age of 65 and around half of all workers will be aged 50 and over.
Even China is affected; the Bejing Times reports; “The rise in the number of octogenarians in China was much higher than of 60-year-olds, which would mean a heavy burden on society, the report said.”
With the number of aged citizens growing faster than the workforce left to care for them, major industrial countries are looking at robots to take some of the burden off of people. But it is a race against time, and at this point Japan and Korea are way out in front of the pack, including the U.S.A.
While not the primary factor motivating today’s hottest robotics labs, those other reasons: more leisure and alleviating danger aren’t totally invalid.
Having even simple machines to help out with household chores frees us to devote more time to caring for the family or to business matters. The self-maintaining home has been a favorite conjecture of authors; small bots that scurry out of a hiding place to clean up dropped crumbs or a spill then slip out of the way again. How about an intelligent home security system that knows the difference between a burglar and the neighbor’s dog? Maybe a central news console that allows a home owner to peruse feeds from major news networks via the internet, listen to music, watch TV, make and take phone calls, and monitor the home’s temperature and appliance activity? Use this to dispatch drones to mow the lawn, water the flowers and chase the neighbor’s dog out of the flower bed and you’ve got something worth having!
Using automatons to take on risky assignments just makes sense – once they get to where they don’t cost us millions of dollars per unit. But even employing robots to help us perform difficult tasks like heavy lifting and mindlessly repetitive assembly jobs, would be an improvement.
Some claim that widespread use of robotic “companions” would significantly lower sexually transmitted diseases, human trafficking and physical abuse (against humans).
Also, it has been found that robots are more effective than a human therapist in reaching children with some mental disorders, such as Autism.
Did you know that we have some of this in place already? We will take a look at where and how we find robots working for us today in the next segment.
Go to Part Two: Household robots – dream or reality?
Is a robotic maid and nanny a possibility for your home?
More On Need for Robots:
- Why We Should Build Human-Like Robots
- Better Than Human: Why Robots Will – and Must – Take Our Jobs
- Robot Prostitutes and Tourism
- Robots Replace Human Prostitutes
- AARP on Robot Caregivers
- Reboot the Babysitter: Robots as Caregivers