Robots – yup, when you think about it you might imagine huge mechanical monsters, controlled by some super computer trying to take over the earth, like in so many science fiction films over the years. Well, that’s not what we’re talking about – we mean the huge progress this year in computing power, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) – technologies that are already transforming our world.
Over the years, we’ve become used to seeing robots in factories assembling vehicles – they have often been fairly clunky and single-purpose machines, programmed to do just one repetitive task or need to be remote-controlled by us to perform their actions. And on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the odd robot waiter serving in a hi-tech restaurant or even ones being taught to play different sports (think Japan).
However, the most recent advances in technology now mean far more intelligent machines are being created, able to do more complex tasks and are even clever enough to ‘learn’ how to solve new problems. 2016 may be the year when we can finally say that many science fiction ideas are finally becoming science fact.
There’s a silent revolution taking place, unseen to the majority of us, where all sorts of production lines for our consumer goods – from shoes to our smart phones, from home appliances to construction materials – are today being ‘manned’ by robots. There’s even a new name for these new co-workers – ‘co-bots’. Often they are replacing boring, repetitive tasks and so are helping us to swap low-skilled (and potentially dangerous) jobs with better-skilled responsibilities.
In the home, ‘humanoid’ robots are also becoming more commonplace and are able to provide all sorts of assistance to us. The Zenbo can freely move around the house, with the ability to provide information, make video calls, interact with connected devices in the home and even entertain the children, like your very own digital personal assistant. The Pepper robot is the first designed to be a day-to-day companion, with the ability to understand your emotions and interact with you, as if it were an actual person.
All of this is possible thanks to the latest developments in AI, where computers are now clever enough to analyse issues and think faster than us. It’s 20 years since a computer was able to beat a Chess Grandmaster, but it has taken until this year for one to beat a master of Go, a game with hundreds of millions more possible moves. Such intelligence is now being put to all sorts of uses, from examining health records to help spot diseases, to predicting the weather and even creating a lot of the content we see online.
These super intelligent computer programs, known as Internet ‘bots’, automatically help us search for the information we need, give us recommendations, reply to customer support queries and now to the extent of writing news reports and even write-ups in magazines (take me for example – kidding. Or am I?)