Hardly a week goes by now where we don't hear about some new example of the incredible advances in robotics. Over the last couple of days, we've seen the first humanoid robot in space chatting with an astronaut, a super-robot which has the potential to work in places too dangerous for humans, and the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials; a world-class robotics competition in which robots attempt various human-like tasks.
Generally, we attempt to snigger at and dismiss the suggestion that robots could replace humans one day. Perhaps because we recognise that it is already happening.
Already, so-called 'algorithmic traders', supercomputers capable of tens of trillions of transactions per day, dominate the stock market. The Financial Times reported on event that occurred on 6th May, 2010, now euphemistically referred to as the 'flash crash', in which computer traders managed to crash the stock market in a matter of minutes. Of course, like computers that initiate nuclear war in the 'Terminator' movies and 'War Games', they had no compunction about trashing the stock exchange whatsoever.
Drone aircraft are already carrying out civilian and military tasks all over the world, and the notion of drones being operated eventually which require no human input is surely highly likely. Wired Magazine reported in 2011 that one in fifty troops in Afghanistan are robots, and RT reported that the Russians are also developing military robots.
The Foxconn Technology Group some time ago announced plans to replace 500,000 workers with robots in the next three years. Foxconn is the world's largest manufacturer of computer products, making components for Apple, Sony and Nokia. Of course, everyone has seen cars being built by teams of robots with no human requirement during some parts of the process other than to monitor and maintain them.
Every time you walk into a wide variety of supermarkets, you will see automatic checkouts, with humans only required to supervise their operation. And in Scotland, Forth Valley Royal Hospital is already using robots to carry clinical waste, deliver food and clean the operating theatre.
The concept of a utopia in which humans are no longer required to engage in labour or even household chores has frequently been presented to us as inevitable. Yet, not only has this not even come close to being achieved, but in a world which revolves around money, people require jobs in order to make money, so that they can feed themselves, and so forth. Increasingly, we see ever more sophisticated robots and machines taking over tasks which would have been carried out by humans as a matter of course just a few years ago.
No wonder that Wired Magazine predicted over a decade ago that "the future doesn't need us".
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