[First published by The Clare People, January 22 2019]
SCIENTISTS are known for making bold and dramatic predictions about the future. If we were led to believe them, the world would be taken over by robots by now. At the end of World War II, those in the know forecasted that flying cars were on the way and that human-like robots would be doing all the work for us. But decades on, we don’t seem much closer to either of those predictions coming true. Or are we? While popular media have created the image of clunky humanoid robots that are set to take over our streets, our homes, and our workplaces, the reality is quite different. Although this remarkable prognostication may not have turned out exactly the way it was envisaged, almost a century ago, robots have changed our lives in so many ways. We just don’t see it because these “robots” don’t have a face we can talk to or walk around like predicted all those years ago. But, while, mobile human-like robots may have gotten a bad rap from movies and video games, and unfulfilled promises of the last century, the reality is that robots are everywhere. Even right on our doorsteps, Jaguar have pinpointed Shannon as a world centre for self-driving cars, while drones are becoming more and more commonplace. We’re now so accustomed to sternly-voiced machines diagnosing our ‘unidentified item in the bagging area’, that human interaction during our weekly trip to the local supermarket has become a novelty for some. Naysayers will say that robots will put jobs at risk, causing poverty and political unrest, and eradicate human relationships but, in fact, they’ve been part of our lives now in so many ways and they have been for years. We certainly have a long way to go before artificial intelligence becomes the dominant form of intelligence on Earth but with advancing computers and technology, robots have impacted lives more than perceived. While we have yet to see an 11-a-side human-like soccer team or robot journalists, robot doctors and robot garda, the technology is certainly there. In fact, the Federation of International robot soccer association aims to have a team of eight robots play against a human goalkeeper within the next ten years. By 2040, the goal is to have 11 robots playing a full pitch game while being able to both score and defend against human players. So yes, the technology is there, but is the desire? Only time will tell.