OPINION: We should do everything in our power to ensure that when robots arrive we can welcome and live peacefully with them, writes Wesley Diphoko.
As a society, we’ve known that robots will form part of our lives in some distant future. Recent developments in the robotics field are showing us that we are closer to living with robots than was thought before.
In August, Xiaomi, a Chinese tech company, instead of just launching another mobile device, introduced CyberOne, a humanoid robot with the ability to walk.
The humanoid robot is 177cm in height and weighs 52kg, and it comes with 21 degrees of freedom, with a curved OLED module to display real-time interactive information. Humanoid robots by digital nature rely on vision to process their surroundings.
Equipped with a self-developed Mi-Sense depth vision module and combined with an AI interaction algorithm, CyberOne is capable of perceiving 3D space, as well as recognising individuals, gestures and expressions, allowing it to not only see but also process its environment.
To communicate with the world, CyberOne is equipped with a self-developed MiAI environment semantics recognition engine and an MiAI vocal emotion identification engine, enabling it to recognise 85 types of environmental sounds and 45 classifications of human emotion.
According to its creators, CyberOne is able to detect happiness, and even comfort the user in times of sadness. It is claimed that all of these features are integrated into CyberOne’s processing units, which are paired with its curved OLED module.
A month later, in September, Elon Musk instead of introducing another car unveiled Optimus, a humanoid robot with the ability to wave, hold objects and walk.
Musk said the Tesla Bot would be “friendly”, with “human-level hands”, “Autopilot cameras” for eyes, and a “Full Self-Driving computer” for a brain.
The robot would measure 5’8’’ and weigh 125 pounds (about 57kg), with the ability to carry up to 45 pounds.
These two robots are an addition to a long list of robots designed to do a specific task. Another robot that came before these was Sophia, who was considered an AI ambassador.
What sets Optimus apart from many other humanoid robots is that the man behind this robot has a mission to create thousands of these robots.
He would like to see them getting involved in our daily lives. According to him, future applications will include cooking, gardening, and some factory work.
In the same way that the washing machine changed the world in terms of saving time for more productive work, robots will transform how we work.
Musk has said that production could start as soon as next year. According to him, the robots will be available at a cost lower than $20 000 (about R360 000), and be available in three to five years.
This robot forms part of the technology used in Tesla cars, such as its self-driving capability. In other words, this robot can be told where to go, what to do, and execute those instructions without anyone practically controlling it.
If Musk delivers on his promise, this robot will be a game changer. For now, we have no reason to doubt Tesla’s ability to deliver on this deadline.
Musk has gone on to hype the robot as “the most important product development we’re doing this year”, predicting that it will have “the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time”.
Musk considers Optimus a top priority. His company is scrambling to hire enough staff to meet his deadline. Musk has even directed the company’s Autopilot team to shift their focus to Optimus to meet the current deadline.
If Optimus becomes a reality, in the next five years it’s possible that we will be able to buy a robot in the same way that we buy a car. We will use such a robot as our companion in executing tasks on our behalf. We could offer the robot to carry out work on our behalf and get compensation for the robot’s labour.
Now that we know that robots are coming, how should we prepare ourselves for this new form of machine-enabled being?
The time is now to prepare ourselves for the presence of robots in shopping malls, workplaces, public places, and even our homes.
We need to come up with governance measures now instead of reacting when robots are among us.
We should now imagine all sorts of harms and benefits that will come with the presence of robots.
We should do everything in our power to ensure that when robots arrive we can welcome and live peacefully with them.
* Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko