March 25 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Technology Year: Beyond Rating: 11
By Dick Pelletier
In a recent report, The World in 2030, futurologist Ray Hammond predicts that over the next two to three decades, breakthroughs in computing, healthcare, communications, and robotics could mark the beginning of the end for human evolution as it has progressed over the last two million years.
“As machines surpass the intellectual capacity of humans,” Hammond says, “they will become a companion species on Earth, but could eventually turn into humanity’s successors.” However, with biotech and nanotech advances expected in the 2010s and 2020s, humans will be able to enhance their physical and cognitive abilities and by as early as the 2030s, technologies could enable humans to interface with these super-intelligent creations and share their vast information-processing abilities.
Today, we are increasingly reliant on computers, cell phones, robot vacuum cleaners, and automated TV programming systems such as Tivo. These machines are considered “dumb” inanimate objects, but experts believe that is about to change.
In the 2010s, household gadgets will begin to take on what some call a “computer personality,” and serve as companion to family members. At first, these helpful companions will be a digital image – a talking avatar displayed on computer screens, cell phones, and TVs. The avatars will eventually be embedded in clothing and jewelry and later, enter our bodies as nano-implants beneath the skin; and by mid-2020s, a more intelligent avatar will appear in our robots.
Robot companions will be incredibly smart. Projects like IBM’s effort to build an artificial brain and Janelia Farm goal to capture and store human thought could, some experts believe, enable robots to gain consciousness. Our companions could one day feel joy, fear, compassion, and other emotions just like we do.
And these silicon wonders will take on an uncanny human resemblance. Former Disney scientist David Hanson has developed artificial robot skin that bunches and wrinkles just like human skin, enabling smiles, frowns, and grimaces in human-like ways. Robot mannerisms will be indiscernible from humans.
But University of Bath robotics researcher Dylan Evans warns there could be a dark side to this utopia. As artificial life forms become smarter, he believes it will be increasingly difficult to determine responsibility should a robot accidently hurt someone. Who would be liable; the manufacturer, user, or robot? And computers already make important financial decisions. What if they make a bad investment?
And here’s a real scary situation. South Korea recently unveiled a robot border guard built by Samsung that can hit targets up to 500 meters away and can be programmed to shoot-to-kill. And the U.S. military plans to replace one third of its ground vehicles with robots by 2015; and twenty percent of its combat units by 2020. Will robo-warriors make it easier to start wars? Experts believe that they will
However on the positive side, Japan and South Korea, nations with the highest percentage of older people, believe that robots can become companions and caregivers to senior citizens, allowing them to remain independent. South Korea’s government has mandated a robot in every home by 2020.
Clearly the road to robotics winds around unknown, even dangerous turns, but strong commerce and public support will drive this “magical future” forward.