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Not really, of course.

Well, probably not.

But either way, you have to appreciate the giant strides forward that robotics has been making in the past few decades. “Strides” being literally what we’re talking about in some cases.

But there is a downside, of course.

The robots might well wind up taking yer jerb.

Do you drive a truck? Work in construction? Perform assembly-line labor? Does your job require more physical activity than mental activity?

Then chances are that, in less than 40 years, your job will not exist. Robots will be doing your job, and you will be doing something else. Or possibly be locked in a pod providing electrical power for your robot overlords.

We’re not far away from the concept of a generic utility robot. A machine that can perform any of the tasks that a human can, but without getting tired, sick, taking vacation days, requiring little things like “pay” and “benefits”, and is small and mobile enough to be put in functionally any environment that a human can manage, and many that we cannot. A machine like that will be one of those paradigm shifts in the human experience; freedom from manual labor.

Which, as I mentioned, may not be entirely voluntary in some cases.

Now, many of the tasks we perform currently could be done by a well built, and well programmed machine. But there’s development costs to consider, plus the initial capital investment for purpose-built machines, etc etc. But if you could just, say, send out an order for 100 Mk1 Utility Robots with, say, a “Garbage Collector” program installed… Or, if you prefer, a “Migrant Farmworker” program. Hell, we could see a future where trucks of migrant farmworker robots are whored out by human mechanic managers from the back of modified pickup trucks. Just head down to your local Home Depot and rent a robotic picking crew for the day.

A lot of this is going to be driven by the creation of superior AI, of course. Mechanically speaking, we’re almost there right now; the sticking points are power supply (which is rapidly getting resolved), and control systems, of which a good AI is probably the most significant.

Indeed, if you think your job is safe because you work in a more cerebral occupation… think again. A good AI could easily put you out of work as well. An awful lot of what goes on in corporate business requires very little thought or creativity; AIs would make ideal low-level employees and even competent replacements for quite a few mid-level managerial positions.

The military applications are, of course, rather obvious. There’s a reason why DARPA started their Grand Challenge, and the newer Urban Challenge, after all. Despite the obvious flaws in the stated reasons behind the cancellation of the F-22, for example (what, you mean that there actually are other stealth fighters  deploying within the next 10 years Mr. Gates?), there is some merit to the idea that further development of 5th generation fighters is a waste of money, when that money could be spent developing an unmanned 6th generation fighter that could make Northrop Grumman’s terrifying “maneuverability is irrelevant” assertion… well… irrelevant. A machine, after all, doesn’t black out at 10g. Or 20g. Or pretty much any g-factor save one that physically destroys the airframe itself.

I’ve considered posting my opinions on the future of military hardware development, but it seems rather hubristic given my lack of any military or engineering experience. But mebbe I’ll do it anyway. Next time.

But regardless, it’s a safe bet to expect things to change, drastically, over the coming decades.

O brave new world, that has such artificial people in’t!

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