Kathryn Cave at IDG Connect has made a good point, one that doesn’t always occur to those of us who work with robots all the time.
Most people don’t really know what robots are or what they do. That’s what makes them exciting — and scary.
A decade ago, parents got all excited about robotic toys. A teddy bear that told stories, a remote control plane — these things were exciting to grownups. And the basis for some horror movies, too. For kids? Well, one industry reporter at the time said, “If your toaster talks, a toy that moves its eyes is not going to be earth shaking.”
Cave points out that new robotic technology is neither as exciting nor as dangerous as the uninitiated might think. Driverless cars are nothing like Stephen King’s Christine. For one thing, they’re not possessed. For another, they’re not all that much more automatic than regular cars, Cave says with apparent regret. They have to be programmed, and that’s kind of like using your GPS, and they often involve a human back-up driver. As auto manufacturers add more incremental changes, the eventual driverless car will be even less like Christine and more like the cars people already drive.
Collaborative robots, which have already been described as “a PC with arms,” are becoming equally mundane.
That doesn’t mean that most people understand them. “Even the terms robots, AI, automation, and machine learning seem to get muddled and interchanged at will just to ramp the befuddlement up a notch, as they’re not the same things,” Cave says.
This is a completely bizarre sentence, but it probably makes sense to most of the people working in most of the offices that will put in orders for collaborative robots in the next few years… and many of those that already have and use robots off on the factory floor. We wouldn’t think it confusing to have different names for medicine, healthcare, walking, and vegetables, because they’re not the same things — but many of the people thinking about robots and automation don’t see the distinction so clearly.
“Those freakish humanoid robots,” Cave says, “have little to do with the kind of day-to-day reality most of us are going to encounter.”
If that turns out to be false, it’s probably still going to be true that the future of collaborative robots will be neither as exciting nor as dangerous as people expect.
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