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Age of the robot

india Updated: Dec 30, 2010 23:36 IST
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The robots are coming. The second decade of the 21st century will see the rise of a mechanised army that will revolutionise private and public life just as radically as the internet and social media have shaken up the past 10 years, says Marina Gorbis, head of The Institute for the Future (IFTF).

Gorbis says robots will increasingly dominate everything from the way we fight wars to our work lives and even how we organise our kitchens. Robots are likely to prompt a political storm to equal the row over immigration as they increasingly replace workers. But it’s not all bad news. “When IBM’s Deep Blue became the first computer to beat chess grand master Gary Kasparov people said that’s it, computers are smarter than people,” she says. “But it didn’t mean that at all. It means they are processing things faster not that they are thinking better.” Working together, she believes, robots and humans will be able to create a world of new possibilities.

The rise of the robots will put people out of work. “We are in transition. It is similar to when we mechanised agriculture. After that we went through a period of high unemployment as people transitioned to new kinds of jobs. People learned to do other things,” she says. “But once a technology is invented, it is very rare that it disappears. You can delay the introduction but it is going to be used. If someone can produce something cheaper and faster, you are competing in that environment.”

We too are likely to become more robotic, she believes. “We have been modifying ourselves with technology forever, with eyeglasses, cochlear implants. We are going to see more of that. Sensors are going to be on our bodies. All kinds of applications we haven't even thought of yet.”

Gorbis says she is often asked if the future is arriving faster than ever. “I’m not sure that it is,” she says. “We know more, we have access to more information but if you lived during the period of electrification or the building of railroads, I’m sure you really felt the pace of change too. It’s all relative.”