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Would humanoid robots turn the world upside down, increase unemployment?

By NS Venkataraman* 

Humanoid robots are now being rapidly developed by several research institutions around the world. It is reported that there are more than 22 humanoid robots in the world right now, some of which are in the prototype development stage. Researchers in several countries including USA, Japan, China, Israel, Iran, Singapore are actively involved in research and development work, causing high expectation. Several funding agencies are too joining the fray by extending financial support to the humanoid robots projects, thus reserving their place to exploit the business potentials in the coming decades.
Certainly, humanoid robots will, sooner or later and perhaps sooner than later, make big impact on the life style of human beings, work culture, value systems and productivity in various spheres of life. It is widely believed that in the coming years, humanoid robots will find use in several sectors such as hospitality, educational institutions by creating content and teaching programmes, health care by vital signs measurements, industrial operations, day today routine activities of individuals and perhaps even in crowd control and wars.

Prototypes and development

Human robots are developed with an array of sensors, cameras , micro chips, image processing and natural language processing techniques and so on, aided by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies.
There are human robots under development that will have the ability to carry several kilogramme of weight, perhaps even more than 25 kilogramme, to function in factories and warehouses for transferring materials and in retail and construction activities too. With such capability, humanoid robots can unload trailers and move packages. The possibilities are that it may even be able to crouch and squat to pick up objects and adjust the alignments of machineries to balance them, depending on size and weight and the industrial needs.
It can be expected that the robots can act as bar tender serving beer, coffee, wine and snacks in restaurants and even in house holds.
Some researchers are even targeting to make humanoid robots with facial recognition and chat function capability.
One wild imagination at this stage is that humanoid robots can even replace humans in kitchen that would provide great relief to the traditional women, pre occupied with the cookery activities!

Are humanoid robots beyond imagination?

The development efforts towards humanoid robots are now being targeted to make them resemble and act like humans. The development efforts for humanoid robots are said to be targeted to imitate even human emotions, if the scientists would have their way.
As of now, the future scenario with the likely massive introduction of humanoid robots in the coming years to carry out various activities may defy imagination. But, the disruptions are likely to be so fast, that it would not be long before such imagination stage reach a stage of real happenings.
Those who now think that humanoid robot is beyond imagination should think about the old times and read how once horses were used as transport medium for men and materials, until such time, when automobiles were introduced. Then, horses as facilitator of transport faded too quickly.
Around one hundred years back, who could have imagined that a football match played at London would be immediately seen on a screen by a person sitting in a remote village in a distant India.

The benefits and positives

The benefits of humanoid robots are too obvious to describe in detail. It would lead to greater efficiency, accuracy in all activities and avoid human errors to the maximum level. Perhaps, the accidents in industries, transport, mining and other sector would drastically come down, saving human lives. With significant improvement in productivity and usage efficiency of materials, the humanoid robot would inevitably promote industrial and economic growth and contribute to overall material prosperity.

The negatives and issues

As humanoid robots would carry out several functions in future that have been hitherto physically carried out by humans and also to some extent mental functions of humans, one thing that is very clear at this stage is that humanoid robots would cause increased level of unemployment in the society, that could cause social unrest.
The well known traditional saying is that an idle brain is the devil’s workshop. Will humanoid robots cause devil’s workshop?
The world population is steadily increasing from 1650 million in 1900 to around 7970 million in 2022.(Source: United Nations Population Division). Over the years, the global population has been increasing at around 1.6% per annum.
If Indian population were to continue to increase, what would be the impact on social life if humanoid robots are extensively used?
This growth in global population has to be drastically checked, if the possible intensity of unemployment scenario due to massive use of humanoid robots, were to be lessened or eliminated. Is it possible?
India has now emerged as the most populated country in the world with more than 1.4 billion people and with high population density. If Indian population were to continue to increase, it is likely to reach the alarming figure of 2 billion people by the year 2050.
What would be the impact on social life in India if humanoid robots are extensively used in India in future? Since the development and fine tuning of humanoid robots in multiple application sector would be fast and unstoppable, no country in the world including India can remain without using humanoid robots, as they need to remain in tune with the changing trends around the world.
The negative impact on employment level in under-populated and advanced countries may not be significant. However, developing countries particularly densely populated ones such as India and countries in African continent have to see the writing on the wall and have to take some precautionary steps and think ahead of time.
While densely populated countries may face social issues due to inability to provide jobs to people as humanoid robots increasingly would take over the various functions, the developed countries may find a scenario where the influx of migrant population from densely populated countries become a grave issue with severe adverse consequences.

What would be the future like?

Of course, there is apprehension in some quarters about the possibilities of humanoid robots negatively influencing the world events.
The question is whether the impact of the humanoid robot would cause more negatives than positives. This could be a matter of conjecture at this stage, as it is not clear as to whether the world would be prepared to face “the “onslaught” of humanoid robots, that threaten to change the life style of humans upside down. This would be a million dollar question.
However, based on the past experience due to disruption by technologies from time to time, the overall emerging view appears to be that humans would adapt themselves to the developing situation and make the best use of it.
In any case, whether positive or negative impact, the march of science and technology will continue and human ingenuity will play the role in influencing the scientific and technological developments.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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