THE IMPENDING FUTURE OF HUMAN-ROBOT SYMBIOSIS

Shakila Africa

We began with the First Industrial Revolution which was sparked by compelling inventions that inspired the move to the Second and the Third Industrial Revolution and we are now heading towards the Fourth. In the year 2022, the world is heading into what is known as the 4IR or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Whilst we still have not exactly advanced into the Fourth Industrial Revolution as of to date, it is believed that the development of robots and robotics as a discipline will lead us into this revolution. With the introduction of robots which can not only perform repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks related to work but can also fill in service gaps in our society that cannot be performed by humans, we may experience a drastic improvement in the way of labor practices.

Over the last 6000 years of human civilization, we have experienced multiple stages of increasing complexity and ability in what we do with the only constant being change and growth. Human existence, as we know it, is dependent on advancement, and over the course of our evolutionary path, we have discovered this inevitable advancement through revolutions. Starting with the First Industrial Revolution which was sparked by compelling inventions based on the initial use of turning raw materials into useful developments such as the coal mechanized steam engine. We then moved on to the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions, each incorporating its own version of advancement, being different from the first only in that the last two revolutions launched the modern digitized world. As is inevitable, human expansion is currently ever growing into the contemporary world and we are now entering a new phase of human development. We are currently experiencing a new wave, a new revolution that is rumored to not only kick start but also implement the age of human-robot symbiosis.

In the year 2022, the world is heading into what is dubbed the 4IR or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution encompasses all aspects of the digital realm, spanning from the simple use of circuits to the complex use of deep machine learning and robotics. Whilst we still have not exactly advanced into the 4IR to date, it is believed that the development of robots and robotics as a discipline will lead us into this revolution. As known, the purpose of industrial revolutions is to advance human society in their way of work to allow for more efficiency in the production of goods and services. In the first two industrial revolutions, this change was brought about by machines that would perform production tasks that were previously too dangerous and too slowly done when performed by humans alone. In the place of humans, machinery was used which effectively led to a boom in production and cut labor time and costs. But there is always room for improvement in our current way of work. Scientists and engineers believe that the next revolution will bring about an even greater change for the good of humanity. With the introduction of robots which not only perform repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks related to work but can also fill in service gaps in our society that cannot be performed by humans. (PGcareers, 2022) 

The most infamous kind of these robots are humanoid robots. These robots are designed to imitate human characteristics through speech, physical form, kinetic capability, and even most recently emotion.  (Lane, 2022) By taking on the human form, scientists and engineers believe that the robot will be able to interact in a society designated for human interaction efficiently and even better than humans as they do not tire, become bored, or be overstimulated for long periods of time. The idea of humanoid robots has been well adopted by huge technological corporations such as Kokoro Japan, Hanson Robotics, and recently Tesla. The first two mentioned companies produced the world’s most realistic humanoid robots ‘Nadine’ and ‘Sophia’ respectively. Nadine, taking the number one spot, has been programmed mainly to converse through the recognition of speech, social cues, and even gestures. This robot is ideally designed to act as assistance to humans in jobs that require communication such as call center posts. The next robot Sophia was developed to look like the famous star Audrey Hepburn. This humanoid robot was capable of expressing human emotion through facial expressions and was also able to hold conversations. The designers of Sophia intended the robot to be a great asset in old age homes and other socially deprived areas of living requiring companionship. (Harkiran, 2022) The most recently announced humanoid robot is being developed by Tesla.

In 2021, Tesla’s CEO and product architect, Elon Musk announced the development of their humanoid robot, Optimus which is set to be prototyped by this year (2022). Optimus will ideally weigh about 60 kilos with a carrying capacity of 20 kilograms and have a speed of 8 kilometers per hour. Optimus is designed by Tesla to perform as quoted by Musk “dangerous, boring and repetitive” tasks.  (Quito, 2022) The robot is also likely to be ideal for home use in day-to-day household chores but this is predicted to progress to more challenging and physically demanding tasks such as those in the workforce. Musk claims that the production and selling of these humanoid robots should kick off in the next 5 years but according to critics, this is not realistic as we are still in the beginning stages of the 4IR. But as the production of these humanoid robots continues to become a reality, we cannot help but picture a dystopian future where we engage in a dependent relationship with humanoid robots. We cannot help but wonder what the real benefits of this relationship will be to an average laborer.

As advertised by tech conglomerates, humanoid robots will be the pioneers in making human life, with regards to labor, easier. Humans are not able to work long hours or perform repetitive or mundane tasks. In short, humanoid robots are able to do what humans cannot do. This will benefit humans in many ways as they will not be required to perform tasks alone but with the efficient help of an assistive robot. The most noted benefit is shorter working hours. If we take, for example, a robot designed to work at call centers with specialized algorithms which allow it to make adequate responses to customers with only the assistance of a human operator, the human counterpart will only have to be on call when the robot is not able to provide assistance of high complexity. (Dzieza, 2022) Humanoid robots are also able to replace human labor which is dangerous and risky. In the modern world, space exploration is highly sought after but it is not safe for humans to do. In this case, humanoid robots will be able to explore space with its inhumane conditions and still manage to gather as sufficient data as a human would.  Humanoid robots are also, as previously mentioned, used to provide companionship. Not only do humanoid robots provide complex services but they can also fill the needed roles which are not necessarily regarded as viable careers in the modern world. Humanoid robots are able to perform tasks that are on a lower scale such as emotional companionship. This will prove to be of massive benefit to humans who require emotional support such as people in old age homes, hospitals, and mental institutions. 

Whilst humanoid robots are able to satisfy specific gaps in the human labor market, there are qualms raised about the true need for this technology. Whilst the majority of people can agree that performing mundane tasks are not ideal, these mundane tasks mainly serve as the only source of income for unskilled workers. Already in society, there is a scarcity of viable career paths for unskilled workers and by introducing humanoid robots, the current minute job market will, according to the public, cease to exist. When asked about this worry, ‘Optimus’ architect Elon Musk replied that he foresees a shortage of laborers in the future which he believes will only naturally be filled by robots. (Barrett, 2022) In the beginning stages of the Third Industrial Revolution, it was also foreseen that careers will be replaced by the newly developed elements. Unskilled workers feared that they would be replaced by automated and digitized systems. The outcome, however, was the complete opposite. Whilst workers did lose their jobs, these job losses were quickly replaced by new forms of work. We see that with each advancement production takes, new forms of labor become available to unskilled workers which carry more benefits and ease than their previous work did. (Orduña, 2022)

It is also understood that robots cannot truly operate on their own and all the speculation of this being a possibility will most likely only launch in the near future. Although Elon Musk has claimed that his humanoid robot, Optimus, will be available to purchase by 2023, it is not accredited as of yet. Even with the introduction of humanoid robots in society, it is understood that they are not designed with the focus to replace but with the focus to assist. Humanoid robots will most likely be used alongside humans, in symbiosis, to help people perform tasks more efficiently. It is understood that a human counterpart will always be required to ensure efficient work performance, as whilst robots are highly intelligent, they are limited to algorithms. Humans are not limited to algorithms as people possess creativity that will forever be unmatched by artificial intelligence. It is thus plausible to agree that the human workforce, whether unskilled or skilled, will continue to exist but possibly expand and change as we have seen in the other industrial revolutions.

Based on the aforementioned aspects of humanoid robots in human society, it can be concluded that these robots will serve no other purpose but to advance the way in which humans perform labor. Humanoid robots will mark the launching of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and change our society as we know it for the amelioration of human work and production as a whole. In the future, we can ensure that the addition of humanoid robots and the potentiality of symbiotic relationships with these robots will prove to be beneficial.

Bibliography

Barrett, E. (2022, April 15). Elon Musk says Tesla’s Optimus robots can help solve the U.S. labor shortage. Retrieved from Fortune: https://fortune.com/2022/01/27/elon-musk-tesla-optimus-robot-labor-shortage/

Dzieza, J. (2022, April 15). HOW HARD WILL THE ROBOTS MAKE US WORK? Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/27/21155254/automation-robots-unemployment-jobs-vs-human-google-amazon

Harkiran. (2022, April 14). 5 Best Humanoid Robots in The World. Retrieved from GeeksforGeeks: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/5-best-humanoid-robots-in-the-world/

Lane, C.-A. (2022). Handbook of Research on Acquiring 21st Century Literacy Skills Through Game-Based Learning (2 Volumes). Toronto. Retrieved from IGI Global.

Orduña, N. (2022, April 17). Why Robots Won’t Steal Your Job. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/03/why-robots-wont-steal-your-job

Parvez, N. (2022, April 15). IS THE WORLD GEARED UP FOR HUMANOID ROBOTS? Retrieved from Analytics Insight: https://www.analyticsinsight.net/is-the-world-geared-up-for-humanoid-robots/

PGcareers. (2022, April 15). THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, ROBOTICS, AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Retrieved from PGcareers: https://www.pgcareers.com/fourth-industrial-revolution

Quito, A. (2022, April 16). Elon Musk is developing fleets of domestic humanoid “buddy robots”. Retrieved from QZ: https://qz.com/2155375/optimus-elon-musk-is-developing-humanoid-buddy-robots/

Schwad, K. (2022, April 14). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

Glossary

TermDefinition
AlgorithmA process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
DystopianRelating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.
Humanoid- robotA humanoid robot is a robot resembling the human body in shape
Machine learningMachine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence, which is broadly defined as the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour
SymbioticInvolving interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association.