In the not-too-distant future, artificial intelligence will advance to the point where robots can perform useful functions in our everyday lives. But it's not just artificial intelligence that needs to advance in order to enable useful humanoid robots; we also need major advancements in portable power, vision recognition, touch sensing, and even muscle control.
Language detection capabilities are also desperately needed before we will see useful robots, but assuming that these technical hurdles will at some point be resolved, we will eventually end up with useful humanoid robots that can start to do some things for us around the house, around the office, around medical facilities, and other similar places.
Initially, these robots will be perceived as useful. It's sort of the way that people now use the floor sweeping robot Roomba, which wanders aimlessly around your house clogging its wheels with hair and dust. But eventually, as humanoid robots become more and more useful, they will begin to compete with human labor, and at that point we have a collision of interest. We'll eventually have the large, powerful robot-manufacturing corporations, which will probably be Japanese companies, facing off against the minimum-wage labor force.
Let's face it, if humanoid robots can flip burgers then you probably don't need to hire people to flip burgers, and there are many similar menial jobs that robots could be taught to do. It's not a stretch to imagine these machines could be programmed to clean floors and toilets, or carry objects such as supply items in a hospital or office supplies in a work environment. Robots could help with gardening, construction and, of course, security. If you have a roving robot that walks around your house or office keeping an eye on things, then you probably don't need to hire security guards to do it.
The inevitable "Down with robots!" movement
There are many cases in which robots are going to start colliding with the human workforce, and when that happens, the inevitable result will be a backlash against the robots
. People will say the robots are stealing their jobs, but that's only a limited view of what will really be happening. Useful robots will multiply the effectiveness of human ingenuity and help get more done with less human capital. The bottom line is, if you're the one who owns the robots, you're going to do very well in the future. However, if you are an unskilled worker or laborer, and you're competing against robots for productivity, you'd better learn some new skills.
Some people might say these predictions are all overblown, that we already have robots working in the car manufacturing industry, for example. But I'm talking about self-contained, mobile robots that are humanoid in shape and size, not the large pre-programmed robots that help assemble automobiles in automobile factories. Those robots are stuck in one place, they don't move around on their own or make their own decisions; they are not autonomous. But the humanoid robots of the near future will be autonomous.
These advanced robots will be able to move under their own power and they will have a goal instead of just a preprogrammed motion. In other words, they will know that the ultimate goal is to sweep the sidewalk or do the laundry or do the dishes, but getting to that goal will require lots of decision-making on the part of the robot. So these are robots that are far more capable of taking over basic human labor jobs that now employ a large number of our citizens at the lower end of the economic scale.
The "My robot hurt me!" backlash
Sooner or later of course, one of these autonomous robots is going to directly or indirectly cause harm to a human being. I don't mean intentionally, I mean accidentally; perhaps a human trips over a robot or the robot displaces something causing someone to trip and fall. There's no doubt that such an event would be used by an anti-robot movement to illustrate how robots are dangerous and should perhaps be outlawed.
Of course, a more sinister scenario involves the possibility of someone hacking into a robot and programming it to do dangerous things. There's also the very real inevitability that the Pentagon will purchase robots and program them to cause harm to other human beings, ultimately making them part of the military forces.
So, there's no question that robots will eventually be accused of harming humans and some of those accusations will be distortions and others will be quite accurate. This is going to bring up some fundamental ethical questions about the role of robots in society. It's going to have a lot of people ultimately wondering whether robots should be regulated in some way or there should be some standard safety feature in the robots, but either way, the backlash will gain momentum, and whatever movement happens to form against robots will publicize the destructive events in order to show that robots are dangerous.
Will robots spy on their owners?
But there's another possibility that not many people think about. If robots are purchased as security devices by homeowners or business owners, the job of the robot will be to monitor the premises and alert the owner to anything suspicious. But isn't it also possible that the robots might be monitoring the homeowners as well? Is it possible that these robots can be connected to an internet-like information network and could be feeding to this network details about you, your location, and what you're doing? In other words, couldn't these robots be used against their owners by, let's say, the National Security Agency?
The NSA is spying on Americans right now by monitoring phone calls; this is public knowledge. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the NSA would someday exploit mass robot ownership as sort of a robotic peephole into the lives of everyday Americans. That way, if the robot happens to see someone engaged in an activity that looked like bomb construction for example, then the robot would immediately alert the FBI, the police, or the NSA, and report this observation.
If robots were to be networked, it seems inevitable that they would be used as roving surveillance tools to provide information to the government about the activities of its citizens. This would not be publicly acknowledged, of course, and would remain a secret for many years. When the fact is finally uncovered, it will give a tremendous amount of weight to the anti-robot backlash movement, because they will say robots are not only stealing our jobs and harming our people, they are also now being used to spy on us, thereby violating our privacy.
While a lot of this is theoretical, the future is not as far away as you might think, in fact, it is the demand for military robots that is driving this industry to produce usable humanoid robots faster than you might expect. Remember, it was really a military push that motivated NASA to land a man on the moon. It was national security that set off the space race, not some innocent interest in science. Likewise, it will be the military power interests that will inevitably promote more advances in robotics technology.
What they want, ultimately, is a robot soldier that can carry a weapon, take orders without thinking, and kill other human beings without a sense of guilt. To the Pentagon, it's the perfect soldier. The problem with human soldiers is that they sometimes come to their senses and realize that killing other humans is no way to make a living.