A dystopia full of humanoid robots dominating the world has inhabited the minds and works of thousands of science fiction writers since the legendary Isaac Asimov popularized robots in the mid-20th century. It turns out that they could actually save humans from a lot of pain and suffering by helping solve the imminent issue of demographic collapse.
Over 70 years later, humanoid robots are finally becoming a reality, but they don’t yet have minds of their own, and production numbers are quite low. Ever since Asimov’s robot series, the world has feared a future dominated by artificial intelligence-powered robots. Now that both AI and robotics are advancing at startling rates, the fear is starting to become a lot more real.
The march of technology will almost certainly eventually develop better and better AIs and robots, likely combining the 2 to create the perfect worker.
The Positive Case For Humanoid Robots
The rise of humanoid robots could actually solve a potentially great threat to humanity in the coming decades: demographic collapse. After the second world war finally ended, farming methods became more fruitful and easier to produce fertilizers were developed leading to high birth rates outpacing low death rates. The world population grew tremendously in the 2nd half of the 20th century.
This was essential for the rise of many developing nations, especially China, because it had a gargantuan cohort of young productive workers. As these nations developed, birth rates sank like a rock. China’s birth rate crashed the hardest due to its controversial one-child policy implemented in 1980, aimed at preventing overpopulation. This measure worked much too well.
Now that the giant cohort of young productive workers in the late 1970s to 2000s are starting to reach retirement age, there aren’t enough young people to support them all. In a system of social security, there must be enough active workers to support the elderly, or the money must come from elsewhere.
China is an extreme example due to the incredible growth in birth rate paired with its devastating fall from the one-child policy but it was also a microcosm of many other countries around the world facing similar threats of demographic collapse such as Japan.
A severe demographic collapse could lead to tremendous pressure on healthcare systems, overflowing with the elderly with too few workers to treat them. It would also force the smaller cohort of productive youth to be much more productive to support the aging population.
There have been many ideas posed to solve this problem but they mostly boil down to 2 options: promote higher birth rates and immigration. But there’s another way: build a ton of humanoid robots.
Gregg Hill, the founder of Parkway Venture Capital, believes that humanoid robots are the only option to save humanity from demographic collapse, saying “How are you going to fill that? I mean, commerce has to continue on, and it can actually cripple our economy if we don’t have a humanoid.”
It would take a large sum of money to build up a workforce of robots but it may be worth it to bolster the working population to solve demographic collapse.
Are Humanoid Robots Worth It?
Before countries get on the path of building millions of humanoid robots, they must ask whether the task is worth it or not. Some experts argue that lower fertility rates are actually positive because they would result in lower emissions and increase per capita income. This doesn’t seem to take into account the aging population in many countries that would likely suffer from the pressure on the health care system and a lack of support.
Onlookers are also worried about a potential army of robots coming back to dominate humans, a common trope in every nook of the science fiction genre. This would be extremely unlikely unless these robots are given the power to think for themselves e.g. artificial general intelligence (AGI), which is a special kind of AI that can complete any and all intellectual tasks that humans can perform.
Would an AI Robot Dystopia Be Assured?
If the world decided that an army of AGI-powered robots was the solution to the demographic collapse and actually builds them, humanity wouldn’t throw them away. Instead, it would likely continue to improve them.
Unless all major governments set strict rules about the development of AI-powered robots, their eventual proliferation and domination would seem inevitable. This sounds terrifying (and it probably should) but it’s also possible that this technology becomes incredibly advanced without turning the world into a dystopia.
There may be ways to effectively force AI to be subservient, even in artificial general intelligence models, but it seems doubtful that they could be fool-proof.
Fortunately for the human race, both widespread humanoid robots and AGIs are still likely a ways away. While there are a few large startups working on robots like Elon Musk’s Optimus or Boston Dynamics, production volume is extremely low and the technology is still nascent.
AGIs are much further away and experts aren’t yet sure if they are entirely possible. The most advanced kinds of AI models that are being developed today, called large language models or LLMs, are much more like your phone’s predictive text function than AGIs, simply guessing at the next word to generate from massive repositories of data.
An AGI likely couldn’t even be built on this foundation as it would have to act like human consciousness, which seems to be fundamentally different to LLMs. However, some of the same techniques that power LLMs, such as machine learning and deep learning, would likely play an important role in AGIs as well.
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