May 26th 2015

The robots are coming (according to our sources)

Like most children of the 80s, I’ve had a love hate relationship with the idea of robots and “connected things”. Sure, the robotic cleaner and tea maid clunking around on Tomorrow’s World looked appealing, but then we also had the Terminator case study and Blade Runner demonstrating the potential of replicants to gauge out the eyes of their creators.

Unfortunately, looking at recent media reports the manufacturers behind the robotic tech now being developed seem to have moved away from the slow, bumbling robots spilling the tea all over the kitchen floor towards more of a Skynet business model. Recently we had Stephen Hawking, no less, giving a stark warning that “Artificial Intelligence will overtake humans in the next 100 years” and the timely unveiling of a “humanoid receptionist” in Japan.

As a London resident, I was also horrified to hear robot pets are set to replace animals in dense urban areas, according to Gizmodo. I quite like the stray cats that hang around the Brixton streets and feel the capital will be a poorer place without them, plus there’s a risk the only genuine creatures in the city will be the rats on the tube.

My problem though isn’t with artificial pets (although that is how Blade Runner started), but the realistic looking humans and the slightly alarmist tone being used in some reports. As good a headline fodder as they are, the tech industry has to be careful not to put out too many stories which look like a film trailer for a post-apocalyptic world, or we may end up alienating people from connected tech completely.

There are some genuinely useful innovations being developed for the launch of 5G and the much vaunted Internet of Things. I’m not talking about Brad, the revolting toaster which apparently walks out if it hasn’t been used for a while, but connected cars that could help prevent accidents or the immensely useful looking “connected cleaner” unveiled in this month’s New Scientist.

Will the IoT and connected tech really take off? I really hope so and there’s no reason why not. As long as the initial infrastructure is in place there will likely to be enough fad products such as fitness trackers and self-ordering fridges to fund the research needed to make sure it all works smoothly with the 5G infrastructure. This could lead to some genuinely revolutionary developments outside of gadgets, including enhanced energy saving and safety and security features in the home.

Of course, connected boilers and power stations don’t capture the headlines half as much as Marxist toasters or Japanese robot receptionists, but if they take off they might just change the world – and not by taking it over with an army of droids.


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