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(h)I, Robot

Will it be just another appliance, a part of the family or something much bigger?

Image Credit: Illustrations by Giovan Anthony Paz and WacksBlade Sison
The team was asked what features the robot of the future should have. This is what they came up with

Robots have always featured prominently on TV and cinema — from smashing sitcoms (Vicki in Small Wonder) and cartoons (Bender from Futurama and Rosie from The Jetsons) to sci-fi flicks (Wall-E and Transformers) and of course, the Star Wars franchise (C-3PO and R2-D2) — and millennials have loved them to varying degrees all their lives. But off the screen, robots have been consigned to working in factories over the past few decades.

Last year, though, they began to enter our homes and 2015 could possibly be the year when the robots we know so well may slowly start to ditch fiction for reality.

What’s trending?
Over the past year, the global market for robotics has been witnessing a move towards new consumer and office applications. Earlier this month, a report from BI Intelligence, a research service offered by Business

Insider magazine, highlighted this shift and predicted that the consumer and business robots market will reach a value of $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) by 2019.
Tech trends point towards artificial intelligence, drones and robots. The market for consumer and office robots will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17 per cent from 2014-19. That’s seven times faster than the projected growth for industrial  manufacturing robots.

What about now?
When it comes to robotics in the UAE, one name tends to stand out – Emirati Mohammad Al Shamsi, CEO of advanced robotics company RoboHiTec, President of the Emirates Robotics Club and Jury President on Robotics for EmiratesSkills.

“Earlier, robotics were unheard of in the UAE and whatever was present existed in the form of entertainment and research,” Al Shamsi tells GN Focus.

“However, with the support of the UAE government, the robotics scene in the country is [now] growing.

“This is the year of innovation and I am confident that we will see robots featured heavily in the UAE by the end of the year — whether in the surveying and customer service industries or within several government projects.”

The UAE Drones for Good initiative — launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at the Government Summit last year — proved to be an important step towards the successful implementation of robotics research in the UAE. “Prior to the Drones for Good announcement, [Emirates Robotics Club] worked on a range of different robots focusing on many topics. Now I see creators streamlining efforts and research towards efficient drones that help save time,” says Al Shamsi.

What happens next?
Thomas Frey, a futurist speaker and author of Communicating with the Future, penned a post late last year about the 101 endangered jobs by 2030. Robots, flying drones and artificial intelligence are directly responsible for eradicating 65 per cent of those 101 jobs — journalists included.

Mass energy storage, contour crafting, 3D printing and driverless cars, together, are responsible for the uncertainty of the remaining jobs.

In an exclusive email interview with GN Focus, Frey explains, “Since we are still in the early stages of automation, most of the jobs that are going away will be met with very little resistance. The reason for that will be robots and machines that are doing work in harsh environments and remote locations where few people want to go.”

Frey believes that if we do a good job of launching new industries, and creating new jobs at the same time, any resistance to old jobs going away will be minimal. “The human race will never run out of work. But creating good paying jobs for all the work that needs to be done is an entirely different matter,” he adds.

Referring to certain strategic technology trends for 2015, analysts at research firm Gartner hail the smart machine era as the most disruptive in the history of information technology.

Currently, the statistics are interesting as Gartner also predicts that one in three jobs will be handed over to software, robots and smart machines by 2025. Better attend those extra on-the-job training sessions – we have a decade to go.

As prototype autonomous vehicles, virtual personal assistants and smart advisors already exist, Gartner predicts that these projects will evolve rapidly, ushering in a new age of machine helpers. When robots do eventually enter our lives in these roles — considering that first-generation models have already arrived — the immediate future will see consumer robots serve as personal assistants, cleaning appliances or gadgets that entertain. For the time being, these products will continue to serve as smart(er) appliances, though robot butlers might morph into a part of the family in a few years — or something far more significant than even that. We’ve all seen

I, Robot after all.