Why We'll Rely on Robots

YouTube / TED
YouTube / TED / YouTube / TED

Will robots take our jobs and leave us in a high-unemployment robopocalypse? Not if Rodney Brooks has anything to say about it. In this ten-minute TED Talk, Brooks explains how he sees robotics helping humans take on daily tasks. Specifically, he shows how an assembly line robot called Baxter can be programmed by factory workers to automate some of the most mundane tasks seen on the assembly line. He even demonstrates the programming process onstage, proving how such a robot can be made humane (for instance, it doesn't crush the puny human trying to use it).

This is a stark contrast to the typical assembly robots we see in today's assembly line manufacturing, where in some cases the machines have eradicated a whole category of jobs (auto manufacturing comes to mind). Not only are those robots hard to create, program, and manage -- they're also downright dangerous to be around. Brooks addresses these machines specifically, saying, "I think it's a sort of technology that's gone wrong -- it's displaced the worker from the technology. I think we need to look at technologies that ordinary workers can interact with."

In case you don't know who Brooks is, he has serious robot cred. He cofounded iRobot (maker of the Roomba, the most-used robot in my house); he wrote the influential robotics paper Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (later made into one of my favorite documentaries, in which he's featured); and he was director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory for a decade. This man knows robots. Now listen up:

For a little more context, check out Brooks speaking at TED ten years ago, showing off the Roomba, among other robots. Seriously awesome stuff, and kind of amazing to see how something that was magical ten years ago is just normal now. What will we think is totally normal in ten years?

I, for one, welcome our new robotic