Please note: The following article may contain spoilers up to Episode 5 of Westworld.
HBO’s Westworld (on Sky Atlantic here in the UK) is progressing nicely, though even now at five episodes in it’s probably a little too early to start speculating about what is going on exactly. However, at the risk of casting wild speculations that hindsight later proves naive, one character that is particularly interesting: Anthony Hopkin’s Dr. Robert Ford.
Late morning, red skies over Mars, and the first human interloper emerges from her landing craft to review the dusty expanse. As she eases carefully down the ladder towards the alien earth, her mind spins with the words that, like Armstrong’s, will echo forever in the human conscious. She speaks and, when her signal reaches home just over three minutes later, 11 billion hearts skip a beat. It’s a powerful image, oft perpetuated in such media as the upcoming National Geographic “global event series” MARS. But below is another, far realer image: the crater left by Schiaparelli after its parachute jettisoned too early and it ploughed into the Martian surface, fatally. Images like this illustrate the truly difficult, dangerous and costly business of spaceflight.
For a sci-fi fan like me, fascinated by the nature of human intelligence and the possibility of building life-like robots, it’s always interesting to find a new angle on these questions. As a re-imagining of the original 1970s science fiction film set in a cowboy-themed, hyper-real adult theme park populated by robots that look and act like people, Westworld does not disappoint.
In our final interview in The Robot Economy series, we speak with Mady Delvaux, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Chair of the Working Group on robotics. Mady has written an extensive draft report “Civil Law Rules on Robotics,” and proposes the creation of a legal framework for automation and ways to promote European industry.
NASA may be known for sending men to the moon, establishing the International Space Station, and planning for a base on Mars—but apart from astronauts, its best-known spokesmen aren’t men at all—they’re robots.
Rovers like Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, and landers like Viking and Philae, make the perfect ambassadors into hostile, freezing, and nearly airless environments. Not only do these explorers bring back valuable scientific data from Earth’s planetary neighbors, they also make perfect showcases for practical robotics.
In today’s interview, we sat down with Alan Manning, Professor of Labour Economics at the London School of Economics. He is a leading author in his field, particularly in understanding the imperfections of labour markets.
Some people have wondered about my forecast in the spreadsheet on robotaxi economics about the very low parking costs I have predicted. I wrote about most of the reasons for this in my 2007 essay on Robocar Parking, but let me expand and add some modern notes here.
The long awaited list of recommendations and potential regulations for robocars has just been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that regulates car safety and safety issues in car manufacture. Normally, NHTSA does not regulate car technology before it is released into the market, and the agency, while it says it is wary of slowing down this safety-increasing technology, has decided to do the unprecedented — and at a whopping 115 pages.
The vision of many of us for robocars is a world of less private car ownership and more use of robotaxis — on-demand ride service in a robocar. That’s what companies like Uber clearly are pushing for, and probably Google, but several of the big car companies including Mercedes, Ford and BMW among others have also said they want to get there — in the case of Ford, without first making private robocars for their traditional customers.
In this world, what does it cost to operate these cars? How much might competitive services charge for rides? How much money will they make? What factors, including price, will they compete on, and how will that alter the landscape?