Home >Technology >News >Opinion | Social robotics will bring about a revolution

In July 2017, two robots, Sophia and Han, made history. At the RISE technology conference in Hong Kong, they went on stage to “debate" the future of humanity with each other. In the course of the debate, they cracked jokes, talked about drone armies taking over the world, discussed ethics in robots and humans, and if it was better to be rich or famous. Sophia was further introduced at the United Nations and was even granted Saudi Arabian citizenship. She is the first humanoid robot to have a nationality.

To say that we have come a long way with humanoids is a colossal understatement. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) have enabled humans to create humanoid news anchors, psychologists, personal assistants, and more. While we are yet to see a fully-functional humanoid robot become mainstream, the day is not far away.

The question “man or machine?" has been replaced with “man and machine". The interesting possibility, however, is whether humanoids can go beyond the industrial world to become part of our personal lives. The Japanese government has moved in early on this possibility, and is funding the development of care robots for the elderly. Tokyo’s Shin-tomi nursing home already deploys 20 types of robots for such care.

Mass production of social robots.

The Akin Robotics factory in Turkey has already begun mass production of humanoids. At the CES 2019 trade show, Samsung unveiled a few robots for personal use. One of them—Bot Care—enables users to check their blood pressure, heart rate and sleep patterns. It also reminds them to take medications, alerts family members in case of emergencies. Bot Air assesses air quality and takes remedial measures. Bot Retail offers support to customers while shopping. The GEMS (Gait Enhancing and Motivating System) exoskeleton supports people who have trouble walking, running or standing up, and prevents overworking of their muscles. In addition, non-humanoid social robots are crossing the experimental stage to mass production. MiRo is one of the world’s first robots that has a brain-inspired biomimetic operating system. Piaggio’s Gita is a cargo bot that can be used as an autonomous shopping trolley

Can social robots influence human behaviour?

An intriguing question thus arises—how will humanoids impact us? How can we handle the fair and dark aspects of their evolution? As we move past the questions of “can we make friends with a social robot?" a greater ethical dilemma raises its head.

Research strongly indicates that as humans we can be influenced by robots, much like we are by fellow humans. True, we develop robots with our knowledge and mastery over the human mind. But what is the impact they can have on our cognitive processes when we interact with them closely?

The recent instance of Facebook having to shut down its AI engine (after it was found it had developed its own language that could not be understood by humans) does venture into the grayer and darker side of AI. At what point in our interaction with them will we subconsciously shift from regarding them as mere humanoid social agents to being “one of us’?

Interesting food for thought, no doubt. If the evolution of the mobile phone to smartphone can bring about such a radical change in our everyday life, how much more, and how much quicker can social robots shift societal paradigms? How should we prepare ourselves to meet the AI and social robotics revolution ?

Keshav Murugesh is group CEO at WNS Global Services and chairman at NASSCOM .

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