OPINION: The Rise of Robots

Image by Arseny Togulev from Unsplash.

In the past, robots were an enigma, a phenomenon that most people could not imagine being a part of their daily lives. Now, there are domestic, medical, industrial, entertaining, educational and collaborative robots. There is rapid progress in autonomous and intelligent robots, but it is important to consider the future implications of widespread robotic artificial intelligence (AI).

As Zippia reports, since 2000, around 260,000 workers have lost their jobs due to robots. Automation is forecasted to supplant the jobs of 20 million manufacturing workers by 2030. There is a possibility that robots will get rid of 73 million U.S. jobs, which amounts to 46% of existing jobs, by 2030.

In light of the economic downturn and inflation that has hit the U.S., many companies have decided that it is less expensive and more convenient for them to have robots do the work of humans. Recently, Amazon announced Sparrow, a new robot capable of doing what none of their robotic systems had been able to do before, which is detecting, selecting and handling products for shipment. Elon Musk has presented Tesla’s new robot named “Optimus,” which will work in his company’s factories. According to Robotics Business Review, Millie is a robot able to detect and clean up in-store messes, and Telexistence has created a robot called “TX SCARA,” capable of restocking store items. Robots are also increasingly replacing human workers through self-checkout lanes at grocery stores, self-driving cars and more.

Proponents of the increasing presence of robots in the workplace claim that even though many people have lost their jobs to automation, new jobs will be available for building robots. So, there will not be a lack of work for humans. However, this perspective does not consider how intelligent robots are becoming. According to TechCrunch, MIT researchers are constructing robots that can self-assemble, meaning they can build themselves, and their outcomes have been positive so far.

Many robot-makers are touting machine learning and intelligent AI as the new big thing in robotics, which will allow robots to mimic advanced human behavior. As reported in the Daily Mail, researchers at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute think that the key to making intelligent robots that can feel emotions is by programming them for self-preservation. With machine learning, a robot with self-preservation can gather data and make decisions based on it, almost like a human would. This could become dangerous if such a robot decided that humans were a threat to its survival and acted against humanity to protect itself. Robotic intelligence surpasses human intelligence in many aspects. Robots can analyze huge amounts of data and develop complex models far beyond human capability. They may begin to see us as their competitors. This can create competing artificial life forms that are extremely dangerous.

On the surface, intelligent robots and AI may seem beneficial to humanity. For one, they can easily do work humans struggle with. But thinking long-term makes it clear that they are a threat to humanity. Right now, many of the advanced robots being made are used for military, surveillance and combat purposes. Many of them are terrifying and aggressive. Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah robot can move at a pace of 29 miles per hour, making it the robot with the fastest running speed in the world. RiSE is a Boston Dynamics robot capable of climbing skyscrapers and other vertical surfaces with ease. Their Sand Flea robot can leap 30 feet up in the air. Ghost Robotics has announced its four-legged robot that has a custom gun attached to it. Imagine a robot that can sprint, leap and fire a weapon. Currently, these robots are operated remotely, but companies plan for future robots to be preprogrammed to act without an operator, which gives robots more power and independence.

Analytics Insight documents several military robots that can easily eliminate humans, such as the Gladiator, which has direct fire capability, and the MAARS, which has an array of weapons able to be controlled remotely. Defense One says that a 2022 U.S. Army convention featured a wide array of unmanned armed robots. The U.S. Army has also been testing out a Robotic Combat Vehicle covered with many dangerous weapons, such as .50 caliber machine guns, M240s, FGM-148 Javelin missile launchers and MK19 automatic grenade launchers. The Intercept reports that cops from the Oakland Police Department suggested arming robots with lethal shotguns for use under “emergency circumstances.”

A human on their own is unlikely to win a fight against a robot. Many people believe that humans can partner with robots and work with them to achieve great things, but the truth is that robots have the potential to overtake us. If, one day, intelligent robots decide they no longer need humans, what could humans do to save themselves? Robots do not get tired; they do not need to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom; they do not feel fear or stress under pressure; they are faster and smarter than humans; and they can intelligently problem-solve and attack with deadly weapons — all of which makes them formidable foes.

Humans losing jobs to robots is just the beginning. Murphy’s law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. One day, it is highly likely that robots will break out of humanity’s control and pose a real threat to human civilization. It is best to be more cautious with robots before things get really bad, rather than continuing to experiment with deadly, armed robots. Continuing to do so is risking the future of humanity.