There’s no need to panic about the future of robotics, say Ruth Aylett and Patricia Vargas, authors of Living with Robots.
When you read the word ‘robot’, what comes into your mind?
Most people think of a ‘metal man’, a large humanoid figure with a square head, rather like the Tin Man in the film The Wizard of Oz or R2D2 in Star Wars.
But if you ask people whether they have come across a robot in their own lives, they will usually describe a robot vacuum cleaner, or lawnmower. A small, single-minded cylinder, slowly covering the ground. Less impressive, but much more useful. Successful robots keep it simple.
Robots lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners are really not amazingly intelligent. The grass-cutter needs an edging-tape to stop it wandering off the lawn. Robot vacuum cleaners can get Lego pieces or other debris jammed into their mechanisms. Or in the worst case, as at least one owner of an un-toilet trained puppy discovered, they might run over something messy and distribute it over a wide area. One reason that cleaning robots have not yet displaced human cleaners is that cleaners are more skilled than we often assume.
In our book, Living With Robots, we explore the gap between robots of the imagination and real robots. This gap has a big impact on how we see robots in our future. The robots of the imagination will take everyone’s jobs in the next fifteen years or even worse, enslave and then replace humanity. But those of us that work with real robots see a very different future.