Innovation is always aimed at one of two goals: either making something possible or making something easier. When new tech arrives on the scene, disruption inevitably occurs. In the short term, people may lose jobs as machines perform human tasks more efficiently. However, it’s important to note that, over time, jobs are actually created as technology opens up new opportunities, ultimately demanding new (human) skill sets.
Unfortunately, when the topic of artificial intelligence and other new tech arises, people tend to focus on those short-term consequences without considering the amazing possibilities that will emerge. If we don’t change this dialogue, we might miss out on opportunities to improve the lives of ourselves and others.
Where Are the Robots?
Over the past few years, headlines have suggested time and again that AI-powered machines may soon take your place at work. Indeed, AI is already performing some tasks that traditionally required human laborers: data entry, document retrieval, etc.
Some companies are even employing AI to schedule meetings for executives, capture sales data, and organize it within a customer relationship management platform. But in most cases, human employees who used to spend time on these tasks are able to, instead, focus on more creative, effective work that requires human interaction and critical-thinking. They aren’t job hunting.
Sure, some machines may be sophisticated enough to outperform humans at highly complex tasks. Programs like AlphaZero, for instance, can teach themselves to play chess in a matter of hours — and beat even the best human players. As amazing as this may be, the program is simply doing what humans tell it to do. Machines aren’t able to understand why they’re performing a task, and they lack the curiosity and adaptability that make human workers so valuable.
The Promise of Tomorrow
Even in the next seven to 10 years, AI technology won’t be mature enough to truly replace human workers in most professions. But with the right mindset and the help of machines, humans can potentially become more productive and effective than ever.
The term “superhuman” often evokes images of robotic androids, typically built for combat and — if blockbuster action flicks were accurate — possibly hell-bent on exterminating humanity. In reality, we can become superhuman if we choose to integrate machines into our lives and work in ways that allow us to maximize our human abilities.
Make no mistake: Thanks to advanced robotics and technology like artificial scans, flexible electronics, machine interfacing, and even edge computing, it will be possible to truly integrate machines with the human body. But even if we’re not physically merging ourselves with computers, the implications of technological integration are transformative.
To be clear, making this transformation is a choice, and it’s one we all have. No one is going to force us to use technology. But those who are open to change and take advantage of new technologies will be able to save time, accomplish more, and seize opportunities others may miss. Moreover, they’ll likely be able to live healthier, longer lives (and improve the lives of others).
With this in mind, here are three robotics applications that can empower humans like never before:
1. Robots in AI (especially in healthcare): These days, robots in the AI space are nothing new, but they are always evolving, especially in healthcare. What does the latest tech look like up close?
First up is the exoskeleton, in which someone wears an artificially intelligent full-body suit and, with his or her mind, controls its movements. In fact, earlier this year, a man in France who’s paralyzed from the shoulders down donned an exoskeleton and walked. In the very near future, the exoskeleton could enhance the quality of life for people with physical or mobility disabilities.
Artificial skin is another major player in this arena. While its implications haven’t fully been discovered, the hope is that this “skin” — technically an AI sensor — could help burn victims “feel” areas that were previously damaged. This is just the tip of the iceberg. As the field of robotics in AI evolves, these applications will transform countless lives.
2. Nanorobots and brain-machine interface: Elon Musk recently announced his plans to use brain-machine interfaces to quite literally connect human minds with computers. And he’s not the only one exploring the possibilities of merging biology, hardware, and software: Researchers across the globe are using BMIs to dramatically expand our understanding of the human brain.
By creating closed-loop systems that record and modulate human neural activity, BMIs can restore motor function in paralyzed patients or even emotional function in patients with neuropsychiatric disorders.
Outside of the brain-machine realm, nanorobots have other far-reaching capabilities (once again, in the healthcare space). Leaders in AI are already perfecting a nanorobot’s ability to conduct precision surgery, administer drugs, and greatly improve diagnostics. Some nanorobots are being built on a micro-level, meaning they’re physically smaller in scale, in order to tackle more detailed, granular work.
General applications include surgical robots that use their own “arms” for surgical navigation, allowing for more precise, efficient procedures. GPS-guided robotic arms eliminate trembling or other inaccuracies resulting from human error, and humans can even leave the operating room to perform other tasks when needed during surgery.
3. Edge computing: Edge computing allows for rapid computing in locations that are far away or hard to reach. Rather than having to send data to the cloud (which isn’t always practical), Internet of Things devices, industrial sensors, or even self-driving cars with edge computing capacity can process and react to local data. This significantly enhances their ability to perform essential real-time computations (like a self-driving car turning to avoid a pedestrian).
One key function of edge computing is its ability to reduce latency, or the amount of time it takes for data to travel from its point of origin to its destination, by identifying a processing task closer to its respective end user. This kind of application drives the inner workings of technology like autonomous vehicles, where a minuscule lag time could be the difference between life and death.
Finally, as the demand for 5G grows — as we saw at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to accommodate the amount of devices seeking internet connectivity — we’ll also see a greater dependency on edge computing. Processing such large volumes of data will require edge computing’s ability to translate it fast.
The future is always uncertain, but that doesn’t mean we should fear it. Rather than worrying about the inevitable challenges ahead, focus on seizing the immense opportunities that technological innovation is already creating. By embracing technology now, we can begin to shape the future we want tomorrow.