Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where's My Robot Butler?

I’ve been watching some You Tube videos and reading up on some stuff about the ‘technological singularity’. Vernor Vinge’s ideas about this relate more to an explosion in technological development brought about by artificial intelligence, but there are other definitions out there. I was watching one video in which someone tracked the doubling of technological development from two thousand years ago and posited that the first doubling came in about 1600 (I think) and that successive doublings have been getting closer together so we’ve now reached the point where it happens once a year. Following this exponential curve we can suppose that we’ll reach a point where we get doublings every hour.

Without artificial intelligence we’re getting a ramping up of technological development through the Internet. Scientist, technicians and engineers can now communicate instantly, all over the world, which is certainly accelerating things. Ideas can propagate worldwide as fast as someone can type. Admittedly this can also apply to silly ideas following the axiom that a lie can circle the world faster than the truth can get its boots on, but silly ideas can also be torn apart quickly because a lot of brains are at work – the stupidity of crowds is countered by the synergetic intelligence of the Internet (a kind of artificial intelligence, if you like).

But putting all this aside I began pondering on how often now I keep getting those, ‘Hang on a minute’ moments. I love reading the kind of stuff that can be found on The Next Big Future, just as I enjoyed reading about them in science magazines a few decades ago. But my wish is to see these wonderful things actually reaching people and more and more now I’m seeing it happening. Yes, we have the Internet, all those mobile phones and all that instantly accessible data; all that computing power, music, graphics and games. But where’s my robot butler? Where are the physical as opposed to media/communication advances? Where is the hardware that does more than just shuffle about information and actually uses it in the physical world? Deep Blue might have beaten Kasparov at chess, but was incapable of moving its own pieces.

Some car adverts spring to mind. We have the cars that don’t need keys, use voice recognition, can recognize traffic signs and can park themselves. This is quite stunning for someone whose first car was a Vauxhall Viva loaded with filler and driven to the scrapyard after three months. This springs to mind. I used to run and program a big CNC milling machine, which was cool, but now it seems the technology is being developed to ‘print’ solid objects. How long, I wonder, before we’ll be able buy something similar to connect up to a home pc? Then there’s exponential increase in the speed DNA is being sequenced

These are just a few of those developments, which I expect we’ll be seeing more of, where the virtual is becoming actual; where information technology is reaching out into the real world. I could spend days on the Internet finding more examples; where the computers are actually being given ‘hands’, but I won’t.

Can you think of some more?

10 comments:

robann said...

The point of a butler is conspicuous consumption. They do things which someone can easily do themselves (make a drink, answer the door, wipe your own arse) but a wealthy individual chooses to have a poshly spoken man perform these little tasks in order to display wealth. Getting a cheap, robot butler to do this defeats the *real* purpose.

Most of our technology is inorganic and is therefore good at different tasks to our own, organic, selves. It is likely to always (or at least within a reasonable timeframe) be more expensive than just doing it ourselves. I expect technology to expand most rapidly in areas humans perform badly/slowly as this makes most economic sense.

Jay said...

There are already 'personal' 3D printers you connect to your pc via usb. Run around $1000maybe less. They say you can't live to see the future but in this case maybe you can.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

i sort of embrace the signs of de-evolution, HALF PAST HUMAN & the TIME MACHINE books seem like they are getting the reality treatment with a govt using 1984 & BRAVE NEW WORLD as an out line.

3d printers are going way down in price. swell read:
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1664358/a-3d-printer-powered-by-the-saharan-sun-and-sand

robo ethics 1001001:
http://warisacrime.org/content/robot-wars

Alex Cull said...

You could make firearms - or at least firearm parts - with 3D printers - in the SF novel/technothriller Daemon by Daniel Suarez, I remember some people use a Haas Mini Mill (not a 3D printer, of course, but a CNC machine) to make parts for a gun which is gradually assembled by the Daemon's minions - who have no idea what they are putting together - and is finally used to assassinate another bunch of people. Something like that might well be feasible now - especially if the weapons were designed to use compressed gas, for instance, rather than an explosive propellant.

OT, as it's not information technology as such, but also in Daemon there's a bit of tech that I was surprised to learn later has actually existed for some time now - the "hypersonic sound system", which emits a focussed beam of sound that appears to emanate from thin air, or from within one's own head (according to one article.) Uses might include a stereo system that you could listen to with complete privacy without needing headphones. Having said that, commercial applications for it still seem few and far between.

Huan said...

I just watched a Program on BBC4 The Science of Decay.
Apparently Slime mould can plan a rail network as well as lots of Japanese engineers and designers.
They can also solve mazes and control robots
Maybe the future is single celled organisms?

bascule said...

Just reading "Robopocalypse" by Daniel Wilson. Not sure I want too many robotic helpers now! Written by a guy with a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon, I wonder if he isn't writing a forecast rather than a novel!

I think that when true AI comes along it will either decide to rule us or remove us.

Graeme said...

http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/skylon_movie_16.9.html

Neal Asher said...

Robann, the title of the post was going to be 'Where are my rocket Boots' but it didn't tie in as well.

Are they printers that print 'matter' or just printers for 3D pictures, Jay?

Vaude, a pessimistic view of the future I'm sort-of inclined to agree with. Half-Past Human seems more possible than my Polity.

Alex, that last seems like a method that could be used for targeted advertizing!

Huan, I wonder how good they are at economics?

Bascule, they might just decide to ignore us as irrelevant.

Grame, it looks like a space plane from The Departure.

Thud said...

My brother in law printed me up a couple of mouldings for some restorstion I was doing, not the best quality detail wise but from a first generation machine they are rather impressive and I look forward to future versions.

Martin P said...

I know this post is way old and that no one will probably ever see this, but I was just catching up on this blog and had to add my comment to this post.

3D printers that print matter are very real. I think the most well-known right now is the "Makerbot" http://www.makerbot.com/

It basically uses spools of ABS plastic that is melted and extruded in layer upon layer.

Very cool tech.