The futuristic scenario of robots and automation assisting our lives is fast becoming a reality. Does it make sense? Or is it more worrying than assuring?
I was watching a sci-fi TV series where the near future is populated with both humans and androids, and of course managed holistically by a network grid of supercomputers at the backend. There was a scene where the home automation system killed the couple within their own home, making it seem like an accident.
While the premise is familiar to us, especially sci-fi fans and those of us in computing fields, this familiarity does not imply we should relegate everything to automation and robotics today.
It is still primitive days, where robots and automation systems are still in their nascent growth. The days where completely humanoid-looking androids working and “living” alongside with us will be some distant future away. However, robots in the industrial and computing spaces are real, and so are supercomputers that compute realities based on algorithms developed by us – the human programmers, rather than rely on the decades of field and life experience of real human beings to make decisions. Even financial institutions are using business rules software to compute loan approvals for real people who may need funds, based on rudimentary conditions that may not properly understand real human needs.
Even as a programmer and developer since I was a young child in the 1970s till now, I still have no complete faith in computers, and the algorithms written by mere humans like you or I. We programmers make mistakes, plenty of them, especially when computing code has become trillions of lines of code, rather than straightforward and simple code of yesteryears. The more complex the code, the more likely bugs will occur, already evident in many of today’s popular and not so popular software applications running on enterprise systems, desktops, and even mobile phones.
So, while automation is a great tool to assist our lives, we are highly complex and highly intelligent human beings with complex needs and emotions. No hierarchy of robots or automation will comprehend us at all, merely addressing and obeying simple commands, no matter how “pretty” such systems are dressed up.
Have you wondered what if electrical and computing systems fail? Do you still remember how to calculate mental math, handle basic life tasks without the help of a computer or a smartphone, and deal with those emergency scenarios? Yes, those times we spent serving in the armed forces, learned martial arts, learned first aid, etc, will be helpful, and should be learned, or refreshed.
Until that sci-fi reality of humanoid androids and systems that approximate our level of intellectual complexity and emotive capabilities arrive, let’s not imagine these mere machines are anywhere like us, nor will they truly serve our needs. They will now, be merely glorified ovens and washing machines. Nothing more.