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Spotlight on robotics: Convergence is just around the corner

27 Oct 2015  | Michael Parks

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SAFFiR Firefighting Robot

SAFFiR Firefighting Robot (Source: U.S. Navy)

As robotic rescue technology becomes more affordable, local fire and rescue departments will augment their rescue equipment with robots. Instead of a human firefighter entering a burning building to rescue those trapped inside, it will be a robot that braves the flames. The U.S. Navy is already working on such a robot and recently unveiled their Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR), which will help to combat fires aboard ships. AI and advanced sensors will allow robots to become more than just our forward-deployed eyes and ears, they will be given autonomy to make decisions. In certain crisis those few seconds gained by granting decision-making ability to a robot could mean the difference between life and death.

The Future of the Biological and Electronic Partnership

Robert Oppenheimer, after witnessing the first detonation of the atomic bomb remarked to himself "Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds." Fears of a robotic apocalypse such as those raised by Musk and Gates are valid, but should be taken in context. It is no doubt that robots will replace people in certain jobs. However, this is a risk posed by all new technologies. As for the concern of AI giving rise to sentient beings that have the intelligence, but not the ethics of humans, the risk comes down to engineering ethics. We as society and a profession need to hold creators of such machines accountable to build in the necessary safeguards to prevent such a scenario. As for achieving singularity with technology, robots are one manifestation that represents a large step that some might find scary. We've walked this line with nuclear technology, so it is not unreasonable to assume that we can learn from the past to expect the unexpected and will be able to integrate electronic companions into our lives without ushering in an apocalypse. But just in case we aren't successful, be ready to welcome our new robotic overlords."


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