Isthe development of robotics helpful or harmful?
Robotshave grown in popularity and use both for personal and industrialuse. A robot is defined as any machine that performs a series ofactions automatically with modern ones being computer programmed(Nocks 2007). Robotics on the other hand is any technology related todesigning, constructing operating and applying robots. Robotics as afield has grown phenomenally over the years. Today there are numerousrobots in factories, workplaces, homes and offices that are designedto perform a specific or wide range of activities. This growth hasoccasioned debates on the effects of robotics in society with twoopposing sides emerging. On one side researchers and experts inrobotics argue for the benefits of the technology while on the otherhand are skeptics argue against robotics claim that they pose greatharm to modern societies and the human race in general. Each side hascited many reasons and evidence to support respective claims.Personally, I believe that robotics will improve the quality of lifefor many people as they can perform some tasks with better precision,efficiency at a lower risk than human beings.
Forexample, on efficiency, intelligent robots that imitate humanfunctions have the potential to improve teaching and learning in oureducation system. To me robots are the new computer which should beembraced. The actual impact that computers and the internet have hadon learning has been phenomenal though very few people initiallyacknowledged they could be this useful (Turkle 2011). Take forinstance the case of e-learning which has literally redefinedlearning and shifted education from the classroom to the virtualworld. With such experience, the US has been among the first toembrace robotics in education. In Brown’s article (2013) publishedin the New York Times, he narrates a very sensational story of howone sickly girl interacts with her classmates from home courtesy of arobot. The internet enabled robot served with camera attends classinstead of the girl and she can watch and speak to her classmates andeven play through the robot that enables her to see and hear whatgoes on in class while her classmate can also see and hear her. Sucha robot can also be used to assist 23,000 students nationwide tocontinue learning from home or even from their hospital beds so asthey do not fall behind in their classes. Alternative measures thatto enable such students be level with classmates in their academicwork would be tedious and not as effective as such robots. The robotsserve as ‘duplicate’ teachers of actual teachers who arecustomized to their needs and thus make learning away from class moreeffective and efficient.
Theserobot teachers are not anyway lesser or inhuman than actual teachers. Some are programmed to have human functions including social skills,hence the name humanoid, can work as automated tutors. Some of theserobots have the ability to take human commands such as question andoffer intelligent voiced responses. One of the humanoids developed byresearchers at Georgia Institute of Technology named Simon has asense of life around it capable of human level-interactions withother humans. Simon is capable of making emotional connections withhumans and even making gestures that conforms to human body language.This means that Simon can be a companion to anyone and engage inintelligent conversations (Diana, 2013). Such robots can be used astutors in specific situations to small children to teach simple taskssuch as pronunciations, general knowledge and spellings. In Korea andJapan, there are simple robots being used at home that also act asbaby sitters. The robots have the potential to engage the children ingames and puzzles to promote their social and cognitive development(Sharkey 2008). This can be replicated elsewhere with phenomenalresults.
Thesephenomenal results were evident in the recent wars in Iraq andAfghanistan where robots were used to detonate bombs. These robotsare programmed in a manner that they can execute a series of actionsto diffuse bombs without necessarily risking our soldiers. I findthis as one of the best solutions to averting the large number ofcasualties that the allied forces reported in those particular warsand the high cost of maintaining those soldiers in the field. It islogical to assume that future research will seek to create robotsoldiers to be deployed in war and carry out basic to complex tasks(Sharkey 2008). Hollywood has already indulged the public into thiskind of thinking with movies such as Iron Man and Robbocop havingdemonstrated the possible directions that this technology can take.Other than wars, these robot soldiers can be better utilized in spaceexploration. It is only a few weeks ago that the world celebrated thelanding of a robot on a comet for space exploration. Furtherdevelopments in this field will create a bigger industry that willalso see some of these robots deployed in performing high risk dutiessuch as fighting fires. In fact, some mining firms have alreadyembraced robots to work in risky mines. Some skeptics however viewrobotics as a threat to the workforce population who will lose theirjobs to robots.
Fearingfor the loss of jobs, these skeptics call for scaling down of roboticresearch and investment. For instance, military personnel would losetheir positions to robots. Sharkey (2008) argues from an ethicalpoint of view and says that possible development of robot soldiersmight mean an end to humanity through endless wars. He also arguesthat using robots for companionship such as minding children willhave a negative impact on the children. He claims that studies onbaby monkeys brought up by inanimate surrogates are sociallydysfunctional. Turkle (2011) argues on the same point to claim thatcompanion robots will lead to less human-to-human interactions thusundermining a core human aspect. I do not agree with these views atall. The authors make an assumption that robots are being developedto replace humans rather than enhance quality of life for humans.Sharkey’s claim that robot soldiers will lead to unendless warsthat might wipe out humanity is wrong. He assumes that human beingshave no restraint. He forgets that atomic and nuclear bombs have beenaround since the Second World War but they have not been used eversince. Furthermore, such developments of soldier robots willdefinitely be limited by resources based on the current amount ofmoney it takes to develop one single humanoid.
Withthe current constraint of resources, it is clear to see that roboticsmay no advance as fast as some may desire. On the other hand, thereis enough evidence to support further development in robotics. Thetechnology will be employed in education in better ways to improvelearning and teaching. On the security, robots will be critical inpreserving human life. They will help avert loss of life and reducesome of the risks faced by human being at war or in other riskysituations such as putting off fires. The argument that robotics willin the long run undermine humanity through increased wars in case ofrobot soldiers or reduce human interactions are just alarmist. Itherefore insist that robotics are more beneficial to humanity asopposed to being harmful based on the evidence presented.
Brown,R. (2013, June 7). A Swiveling Proxy That Will Even Wear a Tutu. TheNew York
Diana,C. (2013, Jan 26). Talking, Walking Objects. TheNew York Times.
Kennedy,M. & Kennedy, W. (2011). Writingin the Disciplines.New York: Pearson.
Nocks,L. (2007). Therobot: the life story of a technology.New York: Greenwood Publishing.
Sharkey,N. (2008, Dec 19). The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics. Science322(5909): 1800 – 1801.
Turkle,S. (2011). Alonetogether: the robotic moment.New York: Basic books.