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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Robots: Practical Demands

Scan: A recent article featured an estimate that robots could be able to help Japan with its impending shortfall in human workers. Well-known as a leading example of the graying of the societies in developed countries, Japan is contemplating a 16% drop in its workforce by 2030. Some researchers propose that robots could be deployed in a variety of roles throughout society to take up the slack (and not, they point out, to simply replace each worker, head for head).

Thoughts: Robots and semi-autonomous systems are in wide use today, from the amusing Aibo robotic pets and Roomba floor cleaners to the critical auto-pilot systems that not only fly planes but can land them alone as well. Increasingly researchers and policy makers are looking to expand the applications for unmanned systems, from machines that do extremely hazardous work (such as exploration and on battlefields) to systems that extend the capabilities of a limited workforce (such as in medicine and personal care). Amidst the continual growth in robotic technology is a concern that such automation dehumanizes society or takes away some important attribute attained by humans through working with their own hands. Yet, the purpose of technology (which includes not only the physical invention but also the ways in which it is put to use and the new social forms it enables) is to make life easier for humans. From irrigating crops to filling decayed teeth, technology has enabled humans to thrive as they have. Despite the common Hollywood image of mankind creating sentient robots who turn into Cylons who threaten the extinction of Mankind, robots are far more likely to provide us with the ability to perform new functions that we desire and to enable society to devote more of its energy to ‘higher pursuits’, not unlike ancient societies where the elite, freed from manual labor, devoted itself to creating the foundations of the cultures we live in today. Of course, for this to happen, we have to figure out how to evolve our economies to permit citizens (oops – workers) to become something more than just life-long laborers.

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Filed under: Technology

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