We tend to assume that automation is a process that continues – that once some human activity has been automated there’s no going back. That automation sticks. But, as Paul Mason pointed out in a recent column that assumption is wrong.
Robocars are broadly going to be a huge boon for many people with disabilities, especially disabilities that make it difficult to drive or those that make it hard to get in and out of vehicles. Existing disability regulations and policies were written without robocars in mind, and there are probably some improvements that need to be made.
Ask a child to design a robot, and they’ll produce a drawing that looks a little like you or I—the parts may be gray and boxy, but it will have two arms, two legs, and a head (probably with an antenna coming out of the top). Starting from the beginning of robotics, the human form has seemed like an excellent starting point. One of the best places to draw inspiration for robotic design, however, is the kingdom of insects, arachnids, snails, and slugs.
I believe we have the potential to eliminate a major fraction of traffic congestion in the near future, using technology that exists today which will be cheap in the future. The method has been outlined by myself and others in the past, but here I offer an alternate way to
explain it which may help crystallize it in people’s minds.
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.