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Robots will not rule the world…But they will help to build it
So, there’s been a lot of talk about robots recently. Most of it is, surprise, down to Google, the company that’s working hard to take every last bit of hard work off our shoulders, from making our vehicles drive themselves to creating actual ‘coming soon’ robot heroes. The company’s even kitting out NASA’s robots with their own Google smartphones.
Besides, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Skynet became self-aware in 1997 (we were still using Encarta back then) so we wouldn’t pay it any mind. As Google’s main men, Brin and Page, said recently, “90% of people used to be farmers”, and we’re not all terrified that tractors will come after us to a Guns N Roses soundtrack. Not all of us, anyway.
Robots working as a team
Now, it’s perhaps sensible to push the idea of one giant tea-break-taking robot creating a house whilst wearing a huge hard safety hat out of your brain. The immediate future of robots as construction workers focuses on a hive mind mentality.
As reported by the BBC earlier in the year, US scientists have developed small robots that behave much like termites. Created in Harvard, the robotic bricklayers follow simple rules and are unaware of an overall plan, they just sense the surrounding area and take limited cues from each other. They can, nonetheless, work together to build large structures.
The main benefit of this model is when you consider robots sent into dangerous places, such as disaster zones or space, to complete a task against the clock; send in one big robot and it could get taken out by an explosion or space monster and the mission is over, whereas send in a swarm of mini robots and they’ll keep working together to get the job done quickly, regardless of a few casualties. Check out the video below to see another gang of micro-robots working together at great speed.
Robots still need us
Foxconn, the global electronics manufacturing company responsible for putting together the mighty iPhone, is employing 10,000 ‘Foxbots’ to assemble the sixth generation of Apple’s smartphone. Each robot costs around $20,000 and will have a manufacturing capacity of 30,000 devices.
However, as reported by Apple Insider, they won’t be skilled enough for final assembly and quality control, the robots will simply be given the boring, relentless tasks of locking down screws, polishing parts and performing other menial duties.
As with the termite robots, the Foxbots are still reliant on people (Foxconn still employs well over a million workers) and will in the near future only take away work that’s dirty, boring or dangerous. This is the same deal for a prototype design for an “ecology” of mini robots created by researchers from Catalonia’s Institute of Advanced Architecture. This gang of robots work together to squirt out materials that harden to create the outside of a building much larger than themselves, but they can still only build to an architect’s exact instructions.
Even if the computer becomes the architect, as was the case with the extraordinary Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall in Germany – made up of 243 unique geometric plates, calculated using algorithms to calculate an optimal shape – an actual designer is still needed to design the algorithms. Achim Menges, a professor at University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design, says that the hope is that this process can bring out the best in both humans and computers.
In summary: Your vacuum cleaner is not a killer
So there you have it, robots of the future, no matter how stylish, are still going to be packs of harmless, hardworking controllable drones, and we’ll still be the queen bees. But if you’re still worried about an uprising, here’s 10 handy signs that your robot is planning to kill you, just in case.