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Rise of the machines

Rise of the machines 

Robots? Really? No, I’m not “lost in space.”

I’ve been doing a little bit of research on the growth industry of robotics and will be providing insights as part of an ongoing series over the next few months. As I explored, I came across a great article entitled Are we ready for Robots? written by Ken Kernaghan, Professor Emeritus at Brock University. The article is featured on one of our affiliate media properties, Canadian Government Executive.

In the article, Kernaghan states that the federal government has began to provide financial support for innovations in robotics. Examples include the National Science and Engineering Council of Canada, which is using funding for a collaborative project that includes researchers in government, academia and the private sector. It is aimed at developing robotic technologies to meet Canada’s needs in such areas as patrolling borders in the Artic, dealing with oil spills or nuclear accidents and assisting the elderly. Some of the other areas of focus include drone-powered surveillance systems, reconnaissance and inspection. Future developments will see robotics used to provide assistance with certain types of surgery.

Kernaghan further identifies that as the advancements continue, robots are becoming synonymous with the growth of industrialized countries and no doubt will soon have an impact on both the private and public sectors. I anxiously await the day where my pizza will arrive via drone delivery.

Furthermore, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and other notable technology gurus believe that the use of robotics will become more widespread within the next few decades, much like computers are today. Japan and Korea, ever the ambitious nations, have announced plans to have a robot in every household by 2020.

In a way, the introduction of robots makes sense. What I used to see accomplished on TV shows as a kid has now become a reality. Even tri-corders from Star Trek with the ability to analyze substances will soon become a reality. It’s a great idea, if you want to make sure your drink has not been watered down. I jest, of course.

Robotics technology will improve the efficiency and performance of certain processes while providing cost savings over time. But despite that, robots are not without their detractors. What about the ethical, social and legal issue have been raised by many about robot integration? I don’t think it’s an over-exaggeration to suggest that we, as humans, may be concerned about robots overtaking us.

Hollywood has offered many sci-fi movies to paint the picture of what this could look like. Just think of the movie Terminator for one example. In addition, robotics has been the subject of various books, films and documentaries released over the years. One of the biggest underlying concerns about robotics is who will be held liable if something goes wrong. This could be a whole new area of litigation and potential bottle-necking that could impede the value of the technology.

Don’t get me wrong, there is great potential in developing this technology. We have already seen some of it in action, including robotic arms, cameras, underwater vehicles and aircraft. When it comes to governmental usage, the possibilities are endless. Local police forces and national defence are two examples of industries that will benefit from robotics. In the private sector, robotics could provide some much-needed assistance to the healthcare industry.

But the question for many is how all of this will be handled. The short answer is that the rise of the machines will be primarily human-controlled for the time being, but at some point, robotics will rely more on automation, thus creating a “machine morality” of sorts. This would most likely be aided by a set of rules and regulations that the robots must follow. One thing is for sure, robotics and robotics have never really gone away; in fact their potential and the advancements made have been kept pretty low profile due to perception.

I think that robotics offers a wonderful opportunity to improve both work and life quality. Sure, there are safety checks that need to be considered with all new technologies, but this should not make us shy away from doing more R&D, in my view. The advancements made in robotics over the years could make the dream of having your own personal service droid become reality in the very near future. Imagine having your own R2D2. That’s a pretty attractive prospect, isn’t it?

In future columns, I will be providing more information and reference articles on this subject. Please let me know your thoughts and opinions on this emerging technology.

John Jones is group publisher and executive editor for IT in Canada. He is a seasoned media veteran who has launched and developed leading industry media products within the Canadian market, including Information Week Canada, CRN Canada, IT in Canada, Canadian Government Executive and Vanguard media. In addition, he is an active industry consultant specializing in content and social media development.

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