Long before smart AI destroys humanity, dumb robots will fundamentally and irrevocably change the world.
A first-ever humanoid robot factory will open soon, according to this story, and others are racing to compete for the opportunity to replace human workers with machines.
Things won’t move as fast nor as seamlessly or profitably as the companies and their financial backers hope — the innovations in tech hype have exceeded actual tech invention for quite some time now — but the news evidences a longstanding truth in robotics and automation:
Movement is as important is intelligence.
Let’s face it: Some of the work any of us does is kinda dumb, and for some it’s more than others. Simple and repetitive tasks don’t require much contemplation and experience expands the list of those activities. Other than the half-dozen geniuses who spend their every waking moment contemplating the cosmic constant, the rest of humanity is occupied doing stuff that’s at least sometimes if not often dull.
What makes us special isn’t what we know how to do such tasks but rather that we can get to them and accomplish them.
Something stuck under a couch? We can snake an arm under it, up to a point. Dive a car? Sure, as long as we stay awake and aware. Carry boxes from one spot to another? We depend on our arm strength. Run, jump, press, turn or otherwise effect change in the physical world?
We can do that.
The human form is uniquely ill-suited to any one action and perfectly configured for all of them. Our limits mean that the tasks we can accomplish are all but limitless, our imperfections the perfect tool for any need.
Industrial robots configured for specific tasks have been around for years; you’ve probably seen pictures of long articulated arms hovering over car assembly lines or, more recently, warehouse pallets that carry boxes. Spreadsheet programs that move numbers and online retail portals that actuate purchases are also tech that’s configured for doing a set number of things really, really well.
Bipedal robots, if and when they arrive, will make all of the dumb human tasks that they literally couldn’t get to before more accessible. This makes a general purpose robot far scarier than one designed for a limited number of actions.
It doesn’t have to be smart. It doesn’t have to be sentient or harbor angry thoughts about destroying humanity.
It just has to be no dumber than we are to take dumb tasks away from us once they can move as we do.
I’m all for the fantasy of a bipedal robot carrying my shopping bags for me or letting me ride on its shoulders so I can see above the crowd at a concert.
But then I shudder when I think of all the jobs that’ll disappear and, as those robots learn as they work, they’ll qualify to assume more of them.
The idea of Artificial General Intelligence (“AGI”) posits a machine someday that has the ability to think like a human being. I wonder if the era of Artificial General Movement (“AGM”) isn’t a far more real and immediate issue?
[This essay appeared originally at Spiritual Telegraph]