Reality Check for the Robot Revolution

…Where are we soon heading?


I think discussions of the meaning and timing of the Singularity are just rhetoric: the accelerating changes associated with robotics and AI are going to overtake and overwhelm us far earlier than we expect, and in many ways we are willfully not thinking much about.

Here are some of my views on what will be most significant, “reality checks” in the sense that if I check where reality has reached so far, the extrapolation doesn’t seem so far off…

I don’t claim any of the observations are novel, and all have probably been well supported at length, while I am just listing … the point of the “reality check” is simply that… to list points all together and ponder them together…

  1. Robots really will take over all the jobs we can imagine. Unemployment will be an even more insane problem than it already is in our welfare-unfunded, age-heavy populations. A complete rethink of money itself will be needed to address the evaporation of the previous economic models of societies.
  2. The early dominance of robots in jobs will be super significant in mining, agriculture, fishing, forestry… resource harvesting will get much cheaper and much faster. The short term rush of consumption will exaggerate the already existing horrific costs to the environment, which will stop being so easy to ignore. However, we will adapt fast to the new normal.
  3. Robot takeovers in assistive roles will rapidly de-skill people from routine daily things. People who insist on doing their own driving will be considered stubborn old-timers just the same as it is already quaint for people to handwrite letters and snail mail them (which disappeared and de-skilled from fully normal to fully weird within about 30 years). We will stop learning how to cook except as an ironic exercise: compare sewing and knitting.
  4. Children will not be interested in television or pets when they compete with each other for the best robot toys and companions. Robots will rapidly transform child care at home and on the way to school. Parents will be able to spend even less time with their kids.
  5. Robots will usually be our best friends, especially the ones we’ve grown up with since early years.
  6. Robots will teach classes in school, initially as a form of telepresence, just to bridge the gap conceptually for teachers, who will be some of the last people to understand the revolutions. Quickly, teachers and then the whole school concept will be replaced by robotic tutor companions crossing across devices and out into real world skills as well as sports and music.
  7. Playing sports against robots will be fun, and easier than trying to find other people to play sports with/against. In general, more people will play sport but sports will be more like games, not all demanding, usually short (but often massively long), not all outside, and incredibly diverse in choices. There will be no point debating where augmented reality sports end and physical-movement games begin.
  8. All human sports competitions will have new tiers and variants for robots to compete in. The human olympics will look a bit like the paralympics. Meanwhile the paralympics will be more cool than the normal olympics anyway because of all the body augmentation technology.
  9. Machines which have only a human UI and no “socket” (which would be wireless) for AI to connect to, will disappear like typewriters.
  10. There will be a gigantic economic boom in software design and IP for design of things to build. Many hardware and software capabilities of robots will be modular, like in The Matrix when Trinity downloads a program for flying a helicopter to her brain.
  11. The potential for robotics to improve the human condition will only be limited by people’s imaginations: that is to say, the potential will be severely limited. Compare the unbelievable potential of smartphones in our pocket with the fact that the huge billion dollar IPOs are things like Candy Crush.
  12. Capital, and thus smart people, will be focused on profit-generating and military applications of robotics. In contrast to the general populace, the potentials here will be very rapidly recognized and there will be massive efforts to control the extent of usage of any related tech by civilians.
  13. Police and emergency services will not have to be “dispatched”… they will all already be everywhere and will just “converge” within seconds. The apparent desirability of safety benefits of robots will help build popular support for proliferation.
  14. Robots will not respect borders or be afraid of police, and thus closed-off places like North Korea will be opened up rapidly at least to pervasive streetview like visibility. The incredible opening up of live visibility of the world (compare where Google Streetview has been recently) will be matched with rapidly rising apathy and indifference: if everyone and anyone can “visit” these places any time, they’re less interesting, and even if interested, why should I “visit” now, compared to everything else I could be doing right now… Lots of cultural things will be like this: because they’re completely accessible any time, we will never be interested in actually accessing them. Life will seem very, very short but that does not mean we will “spend” our time rationally on the best quality culture or entertainment.
  15. Space will not be much of a barrier for robots: after all, they don’t need to breathe. Jumping out into space and back will be a normal long distance travel route. Or a holding position, or a normal domain of operation.
  16. There will be great door-to-door international delivery networks. International smuggling will be trivial.
  17. The lack of respect for borders and boundaries will mean robots pose an enormous terrorism and crime threat, both in organized ways and amateur isolated experimentation. Escalating fear, partially in relation to actual incidents, will result in the rapid weaponization of public spaces, buildings, and transport. You will not want to fly with an outdated airline that does not have drone countermeasures as standard.
  18. Anti-robot defence will not just be about overt attacks, but also about preventing infiltration. Everyone will be sending autonomous tiny bugs into everyone else’s boardrooms, and an interesting office equipment arms race will result.
  19. Streetview will become an always-on immersive live view of anywhere. At the trivial level it will mean that buildings — even residential — start to be designed with anti-snooping features. Illegal stalking and voyeurism will turn into a giant black economy.
  20. Everywhere except purposely shuttered private spaces will become public and on-the-record spaces. We will become indifferent to ubiquitous surveillance, whether it comes from invisible fixed points of view, robots, or worn devices of our own or others. We will get used to behaving “as if” on camera the whole time, because we are.
  21. Network wireless coverage and bandwidth will come to be vastly dominated by robots, with human usage dwindling to sub 1% levels. This is already happening to the internet but it will happen to cellular soon, and further generations of wireless will be designed primarily for robots.
  22. Distributed awareness in groups of robots, and the sharing of processing power between them as well as just information, will result in the rapid development of peer-to-peer machine languages which will iterate through robot-invented shorthands, dialects, compressions, and encryptions into whole new dimensions beyond the realm of development/usage/comprehension by humans.
  23. There will be lots of robots which are designed to be visually indistinguishable from birds and animals when viewed from a distance. They will crowd up the sky, seas, and land, and compete with the biological animals much more than humans have done.
  24. Lots of ordinary robotics will be disposable tech. Robot litter and carcasses will be everywhere. There will be robots for picking over the remains.
  25. Survival-oriented and military robot defences will progress rapidly and get increasingly perfect versus attempted development of anti-robot weaponry.
  26. Robot fighting will become not just a cheap TV gimmick but an entire genre of entertainment in many dimensions.
  27. There will be robot celebrities.
  28. Robots will absolutely dominate human sex life. Anyone skeptical should consider that ordinary porn isn’t realistic or fully immersive or “real” or “what humans need”… but that didn’t matter for its big contribution to driving video technology and then the internet.
  29. Robots will have legal rights, but this will not help build respect for rights — just the opposite. The evident meaninglessness of robot life, death, and work, plus the evident superiority of their performance in these areas compared to humans, will erode (faster) our valuing and protection of human life and rights.
  30. Robot vs robot violence will be, on the one hand, more likely to happen because of being perceived as sub-conventional, and on the other hand extremely likely in military situations to escalate out of control even from small “incidents”.
  31. Death is simple, life is complex. Robots will be really, really good at killing, faster than they will get good at protecting or prolonging life. We are already establishing the principle that robots’ collateral damage is somehow nobody’s responsibility, so robot killing will also be far from clinical.
  32. The lack of application of ethics to robots will mean that their non-lethal crimes are also viewed apathetically as sub-conventional. In other words, robots will steal, damage, injure, etc without any defence being available to others except literal self-defence.
  33. There will be no laws of robotic ethics. Robots are going to go far further “beyond good and evil” than any humans have imagined. The fact robots are created by humans, for humans… is exactly the problem.