Robots are set to seep into every aspect of our lives

Since the 1950s, robotic technology has advanced to a point where we are now being assisted by robots in the manufacturing, space, military, civil security and transportation fields. In the manufacturing industry, many human jobs are already being performed by robots.

This has caused a substantial decline in accidents, worker injuries and manufacturing failures. But those are mainly robots made for static surroundings. With the development of robotics in the 21st century, that’s about to change.

As trend watching predicts, future technology will include mobile robots that can be navigated by using the existing static robotic application, enabling them to operate in environments beyond human reach. Frost & Sullivan’s recent study called ”The Future of Mobile Robots” suggests that the mobile robots market will reach $17 billion by 2020.

But the problem is how to develop robots which are able to identify our emotions and react to them effectively. By incorporating artificial intelligence, futurologists hope to be able to develop a new line of mobile robots who can behave like humans.

Softbank, a Japanese telecommunication company created a human-like robot called Pepper which is able to recognise human emotions by using voice recognition technology and algorithms. With these, Pepper can identify our emotions from our facial expressions and tone of voice. There’s a wide spectrum of fields where this technology can be applied and in this article we will mention some of the most interesting ones.

Softbank's social robot Pepper. Image courtesy of Softbank

Softbank’s social robot Pepper. Image courtesy of Softbank

The service industry

Illah Nourbakhsh, trend watcher and professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, claims that robots will increasingly become part of the service industry as they become more communicative.

In Japan, there are places where robots even work as assistants, taking and delivering orders. Imagine a restaurant with robotic waiters that know exactly what you like and dislike, based on information about you in your online profiles.

Medicine and health

Another field that will be greatly influenced by robots is the health sector. Miniature robots that perform surgeries are no longer science fiction.

Scientists at Autodesk are developing nano-robots that will kill cancer cells after being injected into a patient’s body. Moreover, we have already developed robotic exoskeletons that help paralysed patients walk again.

Or, think of robots helping nurses and physicians in hospitals. The UCSF Medical Centre at Mission Bay, San Francisco is actually developing not one but two such robots.

One of them is responsible for the delivery of medical supplies, drugs, bed sheets and so on, to desired locations in the hospital. The other one serves food, remotely ordered by patients from their rooms.

Image courtesy of RIKEN

Image courtesy of RIKEN


Some schools in the US already use robots as teaching aids. However, trend watchers claim that they will perform much bigger roles in the near future and even evolve into independent teachers.

”Robots will improve classes by replacing traditional teaching methods with active work on real-world problems’,” futurist Hourbakhsh explains.

Furthermore, companies across the world have started to develop robots to assist in special education. The result – a toy-like robot that catches children’s attention more easily which improves their learning and costs less than traditional education methods for children with disabilities.

Image courtesy of Google

Image courtesy of Google


The most popular disruptive technology today seems to be the autonomous cars. Companies like Google, Tesla and Uber have already developed this technology. They intend to target both the private and the public sector.

By the end of 2016, autonomous vehicles are planned to be tested in 30 cities across the US and the UK. Experts believe that this technology will help improve city efficiency and solve problems like air pollution.

A study conducted by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Portugal suggests that implementing so called ”taxibots” in Lisbon would reduce the number of cars in the city by 90% and significantly decrease levels of air pollution.

Where will the integration of future technologies lead us?

Developments of disruptive robotics technologies are certainly going to transform the industries mentioned in this article. In the very near future, more and more fields will involve robots in order to enhance productivity, reduce production costs and make end products easily accessible to consumers.

On the other hand, however, there is concern that robots will take our jobs away. Even if this happens, new areas of production and career prospects will become available. But one thing is certain: robots are getting better and better and they are here to stay.

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World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76. When Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged 22, doctors predicted he would live just a few more years. But in the ensuing 54 years he married, kept working and inspired millions of people around the world. In his last few years, Hawking was outspoken of the subject of AI, and Factor got the chance to hear him speak on the subject at Web Summit 2017…

Stephen Hawking was often described as being a vocal critic of AI. Headlines were filled with predictions of doom by from scientist, but the reality was more complex.

Hawking was not convinced that AI was to become the harbinger of the end of humanity, but instead was balanced about its risks and rewards, and at a compelling talk broadcast at Web Summit, he outlined his perspectives and what the tech world can do to ensure the end results are positive.

Stephen Hawking on the potential challenges and opportunities of AI

Beginning with the potential of artificial intelligence, Hawking highlighted the potential level of sophistication that the technology could reach.

“There are many challenges and opportunities facing us at this moment, and I believe that one of the biggest of these is the advent and impact of AI for humanity,” said Hawking in the talk. “As most of you may know, I am on record as saying that I believe there is no real difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer.

“Of course, there is unlimited potential for what the human mind can learn and develop. So if my reasoning is correct, it also follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence and exceed it.”

Moving onto the potential impact, he began with an optimistic tone, identifying the technology as a possible tool for health, the environment and beyond.

“We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one: industrialisation,” he said.

“We will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty; every aspect of our lives will be transformed.”

However, he also acknowledged the negatives of the technology, from warfare to economic destruction.

“In short, success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation, or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and sidelined or conceivably destroyed by it,” he said.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for – and avoid – the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilisation. It brings dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.

“Already we have concerns that clever machines will be increasingly capable of undertaking work currently done by humans, and swiftly destroy millions of jobs. AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us.

“In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.”

In the vanguard of AI development

In 2014, Hawking and several other scientists and experts called for increased levels of research to be undertaken in the field of AI, which he acknowledged has begun to happen.

“I am very glad that someone was listening to me,” he said.

However, he argued that there is there is much to be done if we are to ensure the technology doesn’t pose a significant threat.

“To control AI and make it work for us and eliminate – as far as possible – its very real dangers, we need to employ best practice and effective management in all areas of its development,” he said. “That goes without saying, of course, that this is what every sector of the economy should incorporate into its ethos and vision, but with artificial intelligence this is vital.”

Addressing a thousands-strong crowd of tech-savvy attendees at the event, he urged them to think beyond the immediate business potential of the technology.

“Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking not only on making AI more capable and successful, but on maximising its societal benefit”

“Everyone here today is in the vanguard of AI development. We are the scientists. We develop an idea. But you are also the influencers: you need to make it work. Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking not only on making AI more capable and successful, but on maximising its societal benefit,” he said. “Our AI systems must do what we want them to do, for the benefit of humanity.”

In particular he raised the importance of working across different fields.

“Interdisciplinary research can be a way forward, ranging from economics and law to computer security, formal methods and, of course, various branches of AI itself,” he said.

“Such considerations motivated the American Association for Artificial Intelligence Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures, which up until recently had focused largely on techniques that are neutral with respect to purpose.”

He also gave the example of calls at the start of 2017 by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) the introduction of liability rules around AI and robotics.

“MEPs called for more comprehensive robot rules in a new draft report concerning the rules on robotics, and citing the development of AI as one of the most prominent technological trends of our century,” he summarised.

“The report calls for a set of core fundamental values, an urgent regulation on the recent developments to govern the use and creation of robots and AI. [It] acknowledges the possibility that within the space of a few decades, AI could surpass human intellectual capacity and challenge the human-robot relationship.

“Finally, the report calls for the creation of a European agency for robotics and AI that can provide technical, ethical and regulatory expertise. If MEPs vote in favour of legislation, the report will go to the European Commission, which will decide what legislative steps it will take.”

Creating artificial intelligence for the world

No one can say for certain whether AI will truly be a force for positive or negative change, but – despite the headlines – Hawking was positive about the future.

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the world that can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” he said. “Perhaps some of you listening today will already have solutions or answers to the many questions AI poses.”

You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted or expected, and to think big

However, he stressed that everyone has a part to play in ensuring AI is ultimately a benefit to humanity.

“We all have a role to play in making sure that we, and the next generation, have not just the opportunity but the determination to engage fully with the study of science at an early level, so that we can go on to fulfill our potential and create a better world for the whole human race,” he said.

“We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be. You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted or expected, and to think big.

“We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting – if precarious – place to be and you are the pioneers. I wish you well.”