For years, writers, scientists and entrepreneurs have shown us visions of our future relationships with computers and robots. These vary from the devastation of autonomous robots annihilating us, to the marvels of superhuman enhancement in robot suits. While the Terminator and Iron Man concepts push those ideas to the extreme, they highlight a clear choice in our use of technology.
Should we aim for total automation with the target of greater safety and higher efficiency? Or should we aspire to augmentation – using technology to enhance our abilities without replacing us? As artificial intelligence and robotics mature enough to become integrated into everyday life, we need to start making this choice. We need to choose wisely, or we might just automate ourselves and the natural world out of existence.
Humans have always been fascinated by automation. Centuries ago, mechanical creations called automatons were constructed to mimic musicians playing, birds singing, or animals moving. Much of the Industrial Revolution was premised on the idea that automation is better: fabrics could be woven faster and cheaper. Never mind the pollution or the awful working conditions – the products are so much more affordable!