I was just watching a news story about a humanoid robot named FEDOR the Russians included as part of the payload on their recent mission to the International Space Station. FEDOR was launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket bound for ISS on Aug 22 of this year.
The six foot tall FEDOR can be remotely-controlled, while also capable of some autonomous movement. FEDOR was originally designed for rescue missions, but now apparently has a role to play in space when the mission includes aspects that might be too dangerous for humans to perform. FEDOR came back to Earth earlier today (September 7). I doubt his initial trek up to space was his last.
Of course, more and more robots looking increasingly similar to you and me are populating mostly specialized spaces for now. But that’s changing, and it’s only a matter of time before I encounter one. Possibly on the back of a garbage truck, or maybe on the docks of a warehouse unloading trucks. I’m quite interested to know when a humanoid robot and I will cross paths directly, and what my reactions will be.
I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill robot encounter, like the one I experienced in Walmart several months ago. The clunky contraption was supposedly scanning the shelves for inventory purposes, but was then later observed by me wandering about aimlessly, getting in the way of shoppers.
The architecture was neither humanoid nor pet-like in its anatomy. Trundling slowly along in the performance of its duties, it seemed uninspired…and uninspiring. Most onlookers gave a quick glance, then immediately returned to their business at hand. It wasn’t their idea of a proper robot, anymore. They wanted to be dazzled, and if they couldn’t have that, then they surely wanted less.
I could perceive that many of them just wanted the piece of hulking plastic to get out of their way. Instead, it seemed to be causing stress in the employee who was handling it. In answer to my query, she said the investment was more trouble than it was worth.
The thing that is most appealing to the human eye is in finding the robotic something mimicking us humans in both appearance and motion. Whether we asked for it or not, the world of humanoid robots is here. So, if that’s the case, these inventions will have to deliver in order to gain our tolerance and acceptance, if not our respect.
How will I feel when I first encounter the package deal, something close to me in size, with eyes that seem to carry life, and movement that I could casually walk down the street next to and not feel slightly embarrassed? I sense that, before I ever witness this moment for myself, it will have already happened to many others around me, and likely involving my own friends and family. Why do I say this? Because, whereas I have not accepted the speaker assistant into my home, nor sport wearable tech on my wrist, nor push wireless headphones into my ears all day, an increasing number of those around me have.
So, it is likely that someone in my circle of friends will relay to me, after the uncomfortable transition period has passed, what it is like to have a personal robot assistant serving the family in their home. I’m certain that the news headlines will become increasingly interesting.
All this tech sits uncomfortably with me. Always has. It is for this reason that I explore it. Moving too fast into the future goes against my grain, my intuition. Have I ever once said that electronic switchboards have served me well, and are way more efficient than a human on the other end of the line? Never. Same answer would apply to a dozen other areas of everyday life I can think of.
So, the idea of robots invading my life by an increasing number of degrees, potentially smarter and stronger, and probably more intrusive and more manipulative than any human I can think of, that’s disturbing.
But here we are, already snuggled up close with Artificial Narrow Intelligence, the kind that’s all over our smartphones, and soon (possibly) to be flirting with Artificial General Intelligence, the variety that will be on equal footing with humans, but surpassing us with breath-taking speed in intelligence. God knows what it will be contemplating at that point. Some big brains on the planet (the human ones) warn that we should definitely be concerned. I know I am.
In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for that first encounter. Maybe he’ll be my pizza delivery guy. As I think about the poor bastard whose job he took, I’ll contemplate the decision of whether or not to tip him. He won’t care either way, briskly walking back in his corporate-branded skin to the self-driving car that will propel him to his next deluded customer. I’m pretty sure the pizza won’t taste as good, either.