Thursday, November 11, 2010

robots and the creative class

The robots are coming, we can't ignore it any longer. The global robot population has tenfolded the last 6 years to a number of around 9 million. They are becoming more human, we are teaching them to play tricks on us, babies have been shown to make no distinction between them and humans, and we are still using them as weapons in countries like Pakistan, where several people have been killed lately through drone attacks. The time is coming where they are massively entering our own homes as helpers such as vacuum cleaners, grass mowers and pool cleaners. Then, I foresee them to also occupy roles in our social world, and this is where humanoid robots will be excellent training tools as friends that do not form opinions and can guide us with our internal emotional, intellectual, and spiritual processes.

How fast the development of robots will go is an almost unpredictable notion in today's complex world, but an almost universally held projection is that robots will be able to beat the world's best soccer team by 2050. The experts differ widely, for example with Ray Kurzweil thinking that around 2029 machines will explode in intelligence -although he seems to not take into account an embodied notion of intelligence- while iRobot's founder Colin Angle is far more reserved, stating that in 10 years we can't really make all that much progress, and that there are a large number of unforeseen complexities to be dealt with that will make things much slower than we predict.

I tend to be more in line with Colin Angle's view. Things will go slow, but I do think that the embodied, communicative, and spatial intelligence required for the 2050 robot soccer champs goal is realistic. Another milestone we should take into account is that of social intelligence. And with that I simply mean the ability of a robot to push the buttons ingrained inside of us through our herd instinct. The milestone would be reached when a robot can sustain a conversation with somebody in 'fun' mode, that occurs often for example when two people who just met go on a date. This, I think, can also be reached by 2050, if innovation develops in the accelerating pace as it is doing now.

Something that is often not taken into account in these business-like projections though is the psychical development of man. Most people do not think in terms of innovation and creativity. A job is a job for them, and innovation a way to make money. When they come home, they go into their comfort zone with sensory pleasures, distractions, and social rituals. But slowly, we people are expanding our own comfort zone to include our creativity. Creation becomes an inherent part of our sense of self and our existence in the world as we shift our mindsets to a passive, consumerist one to an active, existentalistic, and embodied one. Richard Florida talks about the upsurge of a creative class. And it is this creative class that I think will majorly increase innovation.

Not only do companies more and more 'crowdsource' this creative class for cheap input in the form of ideas and concepts, but also more and more people will start their own project just to keep them busy, and share it with the world in an open-source format. For this, you already need an entrepreneurial and independent spirit, that is beyond the comforts of your family and friends.

Take this guy in the movies below, who hacks Roombas for the sake of it. By simply combining the robo-vacuum cleaner with Nintendo input devices, he creates a middle ground between a fully automized vacuum cleaner, and a cumbersome process that requires you to bend, pull, push, and drag. By dividing the embodiment in two systems he removes the hassle and keeps you engaged in the process. All you need now are some visual and sound augmentations to make it seem as if the Roomba is, say, a turtle collecting seashells that are scattered over the beach, which is really your own house.

Sure, the creative class mainly wants to have freedom of exploration and fun. But this too I think is changing. Maybe in the future it will be willing to take on highly specialized and complex development projects, if given freedom and a little bit of money. I think we are underestimating the upcoming of creative thinking as a natural state of being, and how it will affect the world.

1 comment:

J. Merton Walkley said...

You have a well written article, but I disagree with your projection regarding rate of change. Robots will whoop a human soccer team by 2020, if not by 2015. Beginning early in 2010 there was a sudden emergence of a Technological Convergence. The result is that now neurologists and artifical tissue experts and AI specialists and materials engineers &ct &ct are engaging in dialogue that is producing a rapidly accelerating advancement of technique. This is not a good thing.