Science and Leadership for the Future: Robotics

Ross Dawson recently gave a keynote address on Science and Leadership for the Future to a small group of major media and corporate clients of New Scientist magazine.

Given the context, he was able to delve a little deeper into the issues than he would for most audiences. The video of his presentation was sliced into a number of brief segments. Below is the video of the section of his presentation on Robotics. Please click here to view the complete presentation.

Full Transcription: Science and Leadership for the Future – Robotics

Ross Dawson:

Robotics is critically important not least because the whole nature of work is fundamentally changing. In the next decade, the whole structure of work will change, partly through the connectivity where almost any work can be done anywhere, but because more and more the capabilities of machines will match or sometimes transcend humans. That’s most famously visible in the case of the driverless car.

Interestingly last night, there was an announcement that the United Kingdom will allow driverless cars on the road in January of next year. Already in California, Nevada, and Florida in the United States, driverless cars are licensed.

So in the case of the Google driverless car, the way it works is by having on its roof a LIDAR – for light detection and ranging – and 360° cameras, which are overlaid on a very rich view of the GPS landscape. So it can actually construct a model of where vehicles, pedestrians, and other obstacles are around it. And what has been done over the last year is to program a full range of eventualities for what could happen – from traffic cones around a construction site through to cyclists not indicating very well, or children running after balls – to be able to understand how to respond to all of those eventualities.

So there’s an underlying science to this. The use of LIDARs is basically moving on from sonar and radar to light transmission – using lasers to be able to bounce light off to be able to detect signals around – to actually get a very effective and increasingly safe way where drivers can be supplanted and we can play games and watch movies in the car instead of spending our time driving.

There’s a whole new generation of robots that are able to perform tasks – in this case, this task organised by the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency of the United States, where they offer prizes, in this case for fire rescue, to be able to build robots that can go into buildings, open doors, climb upstairs, and rescue people. And the winner was this company called SCHAFT which has coincidentally been bought by Google several months earlier. In fact, Google has bought eleven robotics companies over the last eighteen months, almost all of them the leaders in their space. This represents space where we have seen a shift in work, where many of the jobs of today are being supplanted by humans, creating a whole new domain for what robots can be.

And indeed, it’s not just mechanical tasks that can be done by robots. In the case of Paro, the robot seal, it can create an experience where people are emotionally engaged with that robot.

And so this is part of reverse engineering. What is it that humans respond to emotionally? What makes us feel, “Awww,” the feelings that make us come out of ourselves?

And so Paro, the robot seal, is in fact very useful in a therapeutic context – with the elderly, with people with Alzheimer’s, as in this case, where it can help actually bring people out of themselves, to actually engage more with the people around them – and so seeing our understanding of humanity.

And this is reflected in the latest animations. If you look at the latest animations from Disney and Pixar and others, the way they design them is to evoke human emotions. Hollywood is so very good at that. Now we are able to enact that in replicas of pets, and possibly soon, humans. They can actually evoke these kinds of emotions in us.

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