Tuesday, Nov 25, 2008
A U.S. government intelligence agency thinks robots may be so capable by 2025 that questions such as “Would you like fries with that?” may be uttered by a smiling machine at the order counter.
In a report titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World” that was released last week, the National Intelligence Council offered its long-range strategic thinking about the military and economic challenges the U.S. will face from other countries over the next 17 years, as well as the environmental challenges ahead. The report also looks at technologies, and it includes some sweeping ideas about the future.
IT workers have long been familiar with the ways that advances in automation can reduce the need for people, especially in data centers. By 2025, robotics technology will be far enough along to take over low-skill jobs, according to the NIC.
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That could provide benefits, such as enabling robots to be used to help provide care for the elderly. But the machines also may be far enough along “to disrupt unskilled labor markets,” the NIC said, adding that they could also affect immigration patterns by taking over some jobs now performed by migrant workers.
Vendors such as MobileRobots Inc. already are offering products that provide an idea of what the future may look like. Meanwhile, last year a British artificial intelligence researcher wrote a book predicting that humans will fall in love with and even marry robots by 2050.
The NIC’s report doesn’t address that possibility. But it does say that robotic technologies may be used to augment human capabilities, much like in the 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman. At the extreme end, the report foresees the possible development of an exoskeleton resembling “a wearable humanoid robot, that uses sensors, interfaces, power systems and actuators to monitor and respond to arm and leg movements, providing the wearer with increased strength and control.”