Robots: The good, the bad and the ugly

Do they help or do they hinder, and where are the worlds of robotics and artificial intelligence headed?

The robots are coming and we're all going to die. That's what some of the recent media stories would have you believe.

Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield, recently suggested that we are in danger of becoming a victim of our own success when it comes to robotics and AI. Quite literally.

If we don't carefully monitor what we're doing in the field of military robotics, innocent people could be hurt. Of course, media momentum gathered and now there are probably people panic-buying bread and long-life milk and heading speedily to their nearest bunker to hide from these death hungry bots.

IT PRO contacted Sharkey to get some context on his comments and he highlighted the fact that robots aren't all bad. Indeed, far from it as there are many good things that robots and AI are doing for mankind.

Quite a lot of hot air

"There is a certain amount of hype and sensationalism about killer robots' and terminators. However, there are major problems with military robots currently being used to exert lethal force and some very responsible journalism about it. My worry about the hype is that it can mask some real concerns about the protection of innocents. However, that are many thousands of military robots doing a great job in bomb disposal in the Middle East and saving many of our soldiers' lives," he said.

"Outside of the ethical issues, I see robotics technology being a great benefit to the human race in [many] ways. The standard robot used in the manufacturing and automotive industries is outnumbered nowadays by service robots about five to one. These are robots that do the three Ds dull, dirty and dangerous work like cleaning sewers, domestic duties like vacuuming and window cleaning even picking fruit and pumping gas," he added.

"Some of the greatest technologies are now in medicine particularly with robot surgeons. These are operated remotely by humans and as they get more advanced, they will be become portable and save many lives by getting to emergency sites so that people do not have to be rushed to hospital."

Of course, robotics and AI are not new concepts. Far from it. They've been around for years, helping many industries conduct both arduous and repetitive tasks and even those that human skills could not comprehend or handle competently.

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