The subject of robotics is multi-dimensional, disruptive & urgent.
In my summing up at the Public Debate of the Robotics Atelier at the Norman Foster Foundation, I identified three types of robot:
Type 1_The robot of repetitive tasks
– this kind of robot will end many kinds of manual jobs that people currently have in factories.
Type 2_The robot of super-human activity
– doing jobs that no human can do: because they are, for example, in outer space, under water, in hazardous places; or because they require such precision that they are beyond human ability.
Type 3_The robot of provocative imagination
– this robot engages most intimately with human existence, suggesting ideas, suggesting shapes, suggesting behaviours that were previously unknown. Another word for this could be the “design robot”.
Or even the “life support robot” – a machine, an entity that lives with us, whether it is attached to us, inside us or walking beside us. It cares for us.
Whereas the first kind of robot – the robot of repetitive tasks – is the most straightforward, it isn’t at all the least important because it may have the most profound impacts on current industrial practices and, as a consequence, on social and economic structures.
But the life support robot is the most intriguing/challenging. It conjures up images of an animal on the shoulder, the daemon in The Golden Compass – enhancing/extending our quality of life and provoking thoughts/actions we might otherwise not have made.
My takeaway from the Robotics Atelier at the Norman Foster Foundation is that we need to be more nuanced in our discourse. Robotics means different things to different people and we must acknowledge these differences in order to have meaningful debate.