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When robots rule the world -- like now

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Every once in a while I like to use this column to remind readers it is only a matter of time before human beings become slaves in a futuristic society ruled by robot overlords.

There is nothing surprising about this when you consider human beings appear to be getting dumber every year, whereas the appliances we buy are clearly getting smarter.

We already live in a society where our big-screen TVs, toasters, washing machines, microwave ovens and smartphones, thanks to tiny but powerful microchips, possess more brainpower than the guys you hire to cut your lawn, clean your pool or sit in the Canadian Senate.

Q: Who would make a better prime minister in the future: Stephen Harper or the brand-new computerized stainless steel refrigerator your wife just bought at Sears?

A: I personally don't have a clue, but chances are the fridge will have a warmer personality and, most likely, a more natural-looking hairstyle.

I became even more concerned about the looming robot apocalypse over the weekend when I read, and partially understood, several breaking news stories about the latest developments in the area of robotics.

Scientists in Germany have developed a robot that is capable of performing a task beyond the wildest dreams of most puny humans, by which I mean finding a parking space at the airport.

According to online reports, the airport in Dusseldorf, Germany, recently introduced robot valets, nicknamed "Ray," that will park travellers' cars for them. The way it works is the innocent human drives to the airport, leaves their vehicle at the arrival level of the parking structure, uses a touch screen to confirm no one is in the car, which is when "Ray" rolls out and, with a forklift-like system, picks up the car and takes it to one of the 249 parking spots reserved for automated valets.

I understand Air Canada is currently working on a similar system wherein a robot will greet you at the airport, tell you your flight is delayed and then, for a nominal fee, lose your baggage for you.

Speaking of Canada, our researchers have slapped together a robot that will be spending the summer doing what my grandmother repeatedly warned me was the most dangerous activity any human could engage in -- hitchhiking across the country.

Seriously, students and professors from McMaster, Ryerson and the University of Toronto have whipped up a little guy named HitchBot, a hitchhiking, talking robot with pool-noodle arms, a plastic bucket torso and a booster seat built into his butt that, starting July 27, will be bumming rides on a 4,480-kilometre cross-country odyssey that starts in Halifax and ends in Victoria.

The size of a six-year-old child, HitchBot will be placed on the side of a road and, when someone picks him up, will use his conversation software to tell them where he's headed and ask how far they're going. The robot will also ask to be plugged into the car's cigarette lighter to recharge his battery. When he's returned to the side of the road, he'll wait with his robot thumb out for another ride.

If she was still around, I know my gramma would want HitchBOT to know the world is full of serial killers and, scientifically speaking, he will never be seen again. Even more alarming, a Japanese Internet firm, Softbank, has just introduced what it is touting as the first humanoid robot for home use, a four-foot, 62-pound little guy named Pepper, who is capable of reading and responding to, users' moods.

Pepper, set to go on sale in Japan next February for about $1,900, is equipped with facial-recognition technology, cameras, audio recorders and sensors and will reportedly be able to learn how to behave over time, as opposed to being programmed for specific tasks.

What kind of household labour will Pepper be able to carry out? Well, from what I have read online, pretty much NOTHING, which means Japanese scientists have just invented the world's first robotic teenager.

It is hard to imagine how adult humans have survived this far without a robot capable of handling the main functions of teenage offspring, such as:

1) Sleeping in past noon;

2) Using up all the hot water in the house;

3) Complaining there is "nothing good to eat" in the fridge;

4) Never putting gas in the car;

5) Informing their "owners" they are morons.

Now that I think about it, maybe the robot revolution won't be such a bad thing after all. I have a lot more thoughts on this scientific topic, but, unfortunately, the fridge says it's time for me to take out the garbage.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2014 A2

History

Updated on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 8:02 AM CDT: Attaches photo

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