Robots In, Humans Out – Do We Still Need Humans to Do Our Jobs?

Robots and future technology go hand in hand. Usually when people mention future technology, images of self-aware androids and nihilistic AI mechanical beings come to mind, and that is not surprising. Our culture is inundated with pop culture references that point to such. The Matrix series, The Terminator, Bicentennial Man, AI, 2001: A Space Odyssey, I, Robot, Transcendence and Robocop are just a few examples of a growing list of movies, books and other media that feature advanced robots that think and act pretty much like humans do.

Those movies, fictional they may be helped make the connection between Robots and Future tech for they depict a future filled with them. However, that kind of association has also fostered a sense of paranoia amongst us. For in those movies, like the Terminator and The Matrix, robots and machines have reached a level of sophistication that they deemed humans to no longer be necessary in the grand scheme of things and proceeds to either a) eliminate them or b) enslave them. It’s a frightful thought. Machines and robots, our creations, rebelling against us? One can only shudder when one thinks about it. However, is there a basis to this fear? Will we ever see a Skynet or an Architect or a Sharon Apple one day obliterating or enslaving mankind?

Robots and Humans

At this point in time, we can see artificial intelligence present in almost all of our electronics devices. We can see them in our systems, games, computers, phones and other mobile devices. They’re in our cars, and production facilities, and in fact some toasters and coffee makers have them as well. Advanced some of them may be, they are however in no way self-aware. Yes they can do amazing things, but when compared to the cognitive and thought processes of a human, machines and robots nowadays pale in comparison.

However, it is a matter of time before they reach our levels. As you can see nowadays, AI research is speeding forward, and we are seeing more and more advanced AIs popping up in research labs, with abilities that are both amazing and frightening. ASIMO, the robot made by HONDA is a prime example. With its AI, it can walk, determine distance, navigate its way through unfamiliar terrain, and recognize emotions and even converse to a limited degree with humans. You can even order it around like a mechanized maid. If that is not enough to amaze you, there is also the Geminoid, an android made by AI researcher Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, which together with his other creation, the CB2 have such advanced AI that they can pass as human at a quick glance.

All of these AI controlled robots are real. Would they one day be our end? Some may say yes, but as mentioned before, they are not yet at a level that they are a threat. However, if you look around, the Robot Revolution has begun. Nukes may not be running down on us thanks to a hateful AI, but robots and machines are now the driving force of industry, not you or any other human. One day, they might replace humanity in other jobs as well. If that happens, what then would happen us humans? Don’t you think that is as much the end of our world as we know it, just as a war between us and them?

HARMONY: The New Face of Medical Cybernetics

For many of us who grew up in science fiction popular culture, the word “exoskeleton” can mean many different things. For those old enough who watched Governor Arnold S. in his prime in the 80s, an exoskeleton conjures up a nightmarish image of a fully articulated, AI controlled platinum skeleton with red eyes hell bent on assassinating a pregnant woman. For the younger set who were fed Call of Duty Modern Warfare, or watched Elysium in their teens, an exoskeleton is a piece of military hardware that boosts a soldier’s performance tenfold when worn. In the near future though, the word exoskeleton might mean something totally different. Our kids would probably see it as a boon to mankind because exoskeletons are more used in medical areas rather in military ones.

Medical Cybernetics

A good example is one made by researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin had recently developed a brilliant programmable “exoskeleton” in their labs. And unlike the T-800, this piece of high tech hardware was meant to help people, not incapacitate them. The exoskeleton named HARMONY by the great minds that invented it was meant to rehabilitate patients who have suffered from a range of debilitating neurological diseases that affected their upper body, namely those that had injuries sustained to their spinal cord. HARMONY has two arms and it fits over the entire upper body, connected to the patient at three places on the body. It uses the latest robotic parts and a suite of sensors and feedback mechanisms to that it can properly apply therapy customized to the patient.

The exoskeleton was conceived because current rehabilitation techniques were lacking and the best way to help them was to have the patients go through the full range of natural motions, instead of only one or two repeatedly. In the past, most rehabilitation robots of this kind were usually one armed and that was not very beneficial in helping the patient. Furthermore, with the aforementioned special systems, therapists and doctors can apply fully customized therapies that can help reduce the patient’s recovery time.

HARMONY was created and conceived by mechanical engineering famous researcher in the person of Ashish Deshpande and graduate students from the Neuromuscular Robotics Lab and Rehabilitation in the school mentioned above. According to Deshpande: “Harmony is the culmination of years of research and development in the Robotics Lab. It was specially designed to offer customized therapy for optimal efficacy. Not only does the exoskeleton adjust to the patient’s build and size, it can also be programmed to be gentle or firm based on the individual’s therapy needs.”
If HARMONY becomes the breakthrough device that its creators are touting, then we can definitely be living in a future where at least no one cowers and runs for the caves when someone shouts “Exoskeleton!” So us old-timers could probably discard those haunting images of a human-killing machine when we go the therapist to get the use of our arms back.