"It would be strange if we weren't afraid"
“I’m currently working extensively with a robot called YuMi, which was developed at ABB. At the moment, it’s learning how to chop vegetables in order to work in an industrial kitchen. This is extremely hard to model mathematically. You have to understand what knife to use, how tightly to hold it, what force to exert, and how to hold the vegetable without crushing it. I don’t know if I’m still going to be chopping vegetables 10 years from now, but it seems pretty likely.
When I started my doctoral work, robot vacuum cleaners had just come out on the market. Twenty years later, they became the Christmas present of the year. So not a whole lot has changed for humans in the past 20 years. What has changed is our interest in robots. Many more people see the potential. But naturally, people are also skeptical. They wonder: If robots do all the work, what are people going to do? And there’s nothing strange about that—it would be strange if we weren’t afraid. But I think in the future we’ll keep educating ourselves even as we get on in years. I think we need to keep learning new things as more jobs are automated, and that there will be a safety net for that. Perhaps we’ll never stop going to school, but will work three or four days a week and spend the rest of the time learning.
Technological developments may allow us to live completely different lives— lives where we have more time for each other. Robots are not going to take over; rather, we’re creating systems in which they work together with people. Every nurse can have a robot to help with heavy lifting and more mechanical tasks, while the human can talk to the other human instead. The same thing can apply in schools and home help services. Personally, I’d like a robot that’s more like a friend for my son, a child with special needs. I’d like someone to accompany him to school every day and help him to convey how he feels, because he’s nonverbal. I don’t have the time, and the school doesn’t have the time, but a robot could train with my son all the time, and it would be fun for him too.”
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