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Charlot’s Musings. No.2. Are the Robots really coming?
 
Like in some scary b-movie, should we start preparing for a robot invasion? Are they marching towards us ready to munch on our brains? Come on, Charlot. Not all life is like art. But make no mistake, the robots are advancing… and not all of them look like this robot called 'Bender' from Futurama, a favourite in our house (pic above).
 
When I was a kid, we used to watch a TV programme in the UK called Tomorrow’s World. Tomorrow’s World would be on at teatime and would discuss the latest inventions, and speculate on what the future might look like. I’m sure it mentioned that in the future we’d all work a four-day week, and live off eating nutritional pills rather than food. Still young then, I was worried I’d lose my crisps and chocolate. Sometimes they got it wrong. But many of their predictions have come true, like mobile phones, chip and pin, plastic grass (!)… oh, and the computer.
 
It was around this time in the 70s that my mother had a 'Teasmade', like this one in the advert below. It was cutting-edge technology at the time in our home. I thought it was the best thing ever and would watch it gurgle, spit and ping when the brew was ready. I’ve wanted one ever since, but somehow I have resisted (as I’m already quite lazy...).
 
One thing for sure, back then robots were still in the main in the 'alien' territory, with characters like C3PO in Star Wars, and in adverts like Cadbury’s Smash (pic below).

 

The Goblin teasmade. My mother had one when I was little. Always dreamt of owning one myself!
Cadbury's Smash advert. The closest I got to robots in my childhood home
And now, mostly, people don’t talk about ‘robots’ anymore. The language has changed. We seem to be willingly adopting words like ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘computer coding’, ‘driverless cars’, ‘blockchain’ technology and ‘cryptocurrency’. But if robots are machines capable of carrying out complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer, then all these innovations are robots or robotic.
 
We already know that the technology, like blockchain, has started to replace jobs in accountancy, law, back office roles in the financial sector, some areas of construction, the list goes on. Of course, there will be new roles for us humans, especially computer scientists. No one knows how such computer coding will change our lives.
 
And, technological Innovation is most definitely helping in areas such as working to abate climate change, water and food scarcity. We certainly need more engineers and computer experts to help solve some of the world’s biggest troubles.
 
The robots are already here... it’s just how far they are going to take over…
 
There are some sinister robots coming if we don’t get a grip, and governments are discussing at the United Nations just how the world can navigate its way through to a ban on lethal autonomous weapons and robot armies.
 
Things are changing quickly, with talk now of putting chips into our brains to make us part robot, to help find solutions for nerve damage or degenerative diseases so that the paralysed will be able to move again. This is incredibly exciting news!

But a chip in your brain deciding which memories to keep and which ones to delete? Not sure I want to be around for that. And what will that make us? Part robot? We are certainly a long way from the Teasmade when it comes to drawing lines in the sand over the what is possible and what we as a society want the robots to do for us, with us and to us.

Granted, much lower down the pile of all global priorities, but fascinating to every bookworm … is the progress currently being made with the robotically written novel. Why would we be surprised that robots (computer-generation) can already write books?
 
Whether it is a professor at MIT, Nick Montford’s ‘World Clock’ in 2013 which was a computer-generated book printed by Harvard Books... or Professor Philip Parker of the Insead Business School who, according to the BBC, as far back as 2012 had generated 200,000 books.
 
In Japan, a computer-generated (robotic) programme by Hitoshi Matsubara and his team at the Future University Hakodate nearly won the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award. The novel ‘A Day a Computer Writes a Novel’ made it through the long list, which was read without authors' names attached – so the judges didn’t know it was computer generated. 
 
We have to wonder will they ever be able to capture our mistakes and our fallibility as beautifully as we do ourselves in the novel? For it is the flaws that make us human. Apparently, at present, the robots are finding it hard to replicate our emotions, but they are getting better at it and fooling some readers. One also has to wonder how copyright will play out if computer generated. And who will one be able to sue for libel?
 
I fully expect in the next five to ten years to see a physical robot being interviewed on a prime time TV chat show talking about their first best selling, multi-award winning novel. And more than that, for them to be helping to promote the movie of the book, which is also entirely cast and crewed up exclusively with robots.  One thing’s for sure, the robots are here and they've set up robot camp.

Thank you for reading, 
Love, Charlot

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Copyright © 2018  Charlot King. Published by Beautiful Day Cambridge Ltd. All rights reserved.

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