Tech Time Warp: Robots in real life - July 1977

Posted by Lauren Beliveau on Jul 22, 2016 9:55:30 AM

Star_Wars.jpgThis Tech Time Warp goes all the way back to July 1977, a couple months after the first Star Wars movie was released. After the movie came out, it seemed that everyone had become robot crazy. The hundreds of robots featured in the movie (a.k.a. droids) like C-3PO and R2-D2 had managed to win hearts.

But, when George Lucas was first creating R2-D2, animatronics experts said it was impossible to have mechanical ‘beings’ who could perform like characters. To give R2-D2 the personality Lucas wanted, he needed to be part remote control and part costume to fully encompass the character. After seeing movies like Star Wars, people got hooked on the idea of creating robots in real life.

What is a Robot?

In July 1977, David Heiserman wrote an article for Personal Computing called “What is a robot?”  In 1500 words, he described what defines a robot versus a parabot, which is controlled remotely by a person. He goes on to state, “when thinking about real robots, consider two alternate names, cyborg and automaton.”

According to Heiserman, a robot must be “an autonomous machine; a machine carrying out functions on its own.” He said that what most people considered to be a robot was not at a robot at all. “The brain of a true robot is an integrated network of simple and basic functions,” Heiserman explained, adding that they need to have the capacity to make a decision, set goals, and have different behavioral sets. Heiserman argued that a “true robot is to other machines as man is to animals.” He was setting the bar high.

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Robots today

Today robots are all over the news, and many speculate that they will soon be taking over YOUR job. A recent McKinsey &Co report noted, “While automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the next decade, it will affect portions of almost all jobs to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of work they entail.” The jobs most likely to be at stake are occupations that entail physical activity or machine operation.

The Huffington Post points out that the fear of losing jobs to new technology is not a new idea, but now that technology is catching up with the predictions, action might need to be taken. In Switzerland, a vote was taken on whether governments should subsidize citizens and pay them roughly $2,500 a month for doing nothing. It didn’t pass, but is this going to become a new trend to supplement those who can’t work because robots are taking their jobs?

Increasing efficiency with machines can quickly eliminate jobs. The Fiscal Times states that “73 percent of the activities workers perform in food service and accommodations have the potential for automation.” For example, Momentum Machines created a robot can make 360 burgers in an hour.

Automation could potentially eliminate 5.1 million jobs in the next five years (which is 65 percent of the workforce). Robots are slowly taking over. Question is, with the rapidly changing marketplace, how we will adapt?

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Photo Credit: Gordon Tarpley via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons 2.0.  

Topics: Tech Time Warp

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