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March 4, 2013

Peter W. Singer On The Robot Revolution



drone robotics


 Robotics
Peter Singer, a consultant to the U.S. Pentagon and author of the best-selling Wired for War, addressed the World Affairs Council of Houston on how robotics has moved from the world of science fiction onto the battlefield, and soon onto the home front. Over 50 other nations are using military robotics, to include Russia, China, and Iran. Now, this new technology is increasingly starting to be used in civilian fields.
Like gunpowder or the steam engine, robotics is posing a series of tough new questions, not just in its use, but also in its ripple effects onto the realms of politics, business, law, and ethics.

Peter Singer, a consultant to the U.S. Pentagon and author of the best-selling Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, addressed about 250 members of the World Affairs Council of Houston with these issues recently.

Singer was also recently featured on the NOVA documentary, 'Rise of the Drones.'

Drones today, including 8,000 U.S. drones in the air and 12,000 on the ground, allow U.S. military commanders to engage in search and destroy missions thousands of miles from their targets.

"The number of drones doubles in capacity every 18 months," Singer said. "Over the next 25 years, our technical capability will be a billion times over what it is today. This is what it is like to live and work in a robot revolution."

Singer cited Microsoft magnate Bill Gates' estimate that, with robotics, society is now where it was with computers in 1980.

"Robotic cars are increasingly taking over jobs for us," Singer said. "We are fighting cyber wars to prevent identity theft. For the young engineers of today, robotics is where it's at."

The ripple effects of the new technologies were being seen across the world in innovations and more applications than was dreamed possible just a decade ago, Singer said.

"By 2015, the commercial use of robotics will be a 10 billion U.S. dollars to 90 billion U.S. dollars market," he said. "Robotics will gain about 21,000 new clients just from police departments using drone helicopters."

Rodney Brooks and Baxter
Rodney Brooks' Rethink Robotics aims to replace low-skilled workers with robotics, like their model Baxter
Image Source: Doron Gild, Inc.

Police used to need a warrant to peek over a private individual's fence. "Now robotics-equipped police helicopters can peek into entire neighborhoods," he said.

Singer also commented on technological unemployment caused by robotics.  "Six million jobs have been lost due to robotics," Singer said. "That's one out of every 10 auto workers who have been replaced with robots."

Surgeons, traditionally in the highest rung of the medical field, were paid for their skills in holding a knife steady and making the cuts in the exact spot necessary, but robotics has made inroads into that job, too.

"We are already seeing robotic surgeons that can hold a knife perfectly still and make the exacting cuts to specification," Singer said. "But pediatricians don't need to worry -- robots have a problem telling a father when his two-year-old child has a fever."

There are now robotic lawnmowers, robot carpet cleaners and, in Australia, robots that can track down hikers who have been lost in the Outback.

On the downside, the laws of accountability have not kept pace with the technological advances, Singer said.

"When your robot has an oops moment, who do you hold responsible? When a drone strike doesn't work, who is accountable?" Singer asked. "Drones are being used in reporting, a fact that will strike fear in the heart of every VIP (very important person) outside in their yard with friends on their birthday."

With the use of robots, the way of thinking about war has changed, Singer said. "People go to war overseas from their chair in Nevada. That's a fundamentally different experience of going to war."

"We're getting science-fiction-like," he said. "This is the technical and political reality of today."



SOURCE  World Affairs Council of Houston

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