Outside sci-fi, robots make an appearance only as labour in niche areas—hi-tech surgery, space exploration, R&D, etc. In fact, layman consciousness wouldn’t probably register the ones in the real world as robots. But this could soon change. There is largely an enabling environment today for robots to be part of our homes and our workplaces. Robotics R&D is getting easier—shared standards are allowing technologies and ideas to migrate across platforms. And, gone are the days of cagey investors—Sony, Honda et al were just the few around and were working on concept projects—with Google buying eight promising robotics start-ups and Amazon looking at warehouse automation and drone delivery. Human imagination of what one could do with robots is also evolving—high levels of precision, enabling surgery today, could power the perfect shot for a cinematographer in the future. There are signs already of a robot-rise —according to the International Federation of Robotics, cited in The Economist, industrial sale of robots increased by 7% between 2008 and 2012. Car companies, though, account for the highest industrial use of robots at the moment, The Economist adds—in the US, 52% of robot installations in 2012 happened in car companies.
What happens to us with the robot-rise? The naysayers see a drastic wipe-out of human employment. In robots, we do have cheap and potentially limitless labour. It would, of course, make human labour redundant in some form or the other—driverless cars would replace chauffeurs. But what the naysayers fail to appreciate is that humans can re-skill while machines can’t.