This is not easy to admit, but I’m starting to think I may have made a terrible mistake.
I am referring, of course, to the dozens of columns I have written in recent years warning about the looming Robot Revolution, wherein all of our state-of-the-art smart appliances develop supreme artificial intelligence and morph into cruel robotic overlords that will enslave mankind for generations.
But I began having serious doubts about this potential insurrection over the weekend, which I spent lying on the couch in our den stuffing my face with grease-containing snacks and watching countless hours of action from the Tokyo Summer Olympics on my big-screen TV.
I was feeling pretty relaxed until halftime of the basketball game between the men’s teams from the U.S. and France, which is when a spooky seven-foot-tall figure wearing a No. 95 jersey rolled onto the court, picked up a ball, and began draining long-distance buckets with 100 per cent accuracy.
At halftime of the opening Olympic game for the Canadian women’s basketball team against Serbia, the same robot wheeled out on to the court to demonstrate Japan’s technological prowess.
As I tried to set the Olympic record for snack consumption, this humanoid machine — an artificially intelligent hoops-playing robot built by Toyota and nicknamed "CUE" — shot a free throw and a three-pointer before gliding back and nailing a (bad word) shot from the half-court logo.
Sure, it can’t really dribble or pass or play defence or hit the showers like other players, but CUE certainly can shoot, though it takes at least 15 seconds before it releases the ball. Two years ago, an earlier version sank 2,020 free throws consecutively, setting a world record for machines of its type.
But I became less impressed — and less terrified — when I learned that humans still hold the world records for three-point shooting. According to The Washington Post, American podiatrist Tom Amberry set the record for humans, with 2,750 consecutive shots, in 1993 at age 71. Ted St. Martin of Jacksonville, Fla., pushed the consecutive mark to 5,221 in 1996 and still holds the record today.
Lying on the couch, it occurred to me that, if you were designing a robot with the goal of enslaving the human race, the ability to consistently sink shots on a basketball court, would not be the first thing you would program into it, as we see from the following fictional conversation:
First puny human: "Hey, where’s our cruel robotic master, CUE?"
Second puny human: "He’s still sinking free throws over at the rec centre. I think he’s going to be awhile."
Which is when, on behalf of the human race, I decided to spend several vital minutes randomly Googling the word "robot" to see what other daunting humanoid-type devices might be plotting our imminent downfall.
I was shocked to discover that scientists around the world, instead of producing machines that can crush our skulls like walnuts, are instead churning out what I can only describe as robot wimps.
For example, multinational corporation GE made headlines for inventing (wait for it) a soft, wriggly robot earthworm, "which made a 10-cm diameter tunnel, autonomously dug underground at GE’s Niskayuna, N.Y., research campus, achieving a distance comparable to available trenchless digging machines."
And a company called TechTics has just unveiled a robot named "BeachBot" that uses its artificial intelligence, robot eyes and gripper arms to focus on one task — picking up discarded cigarette butts on the beach and depositing them in an on-board storage container. Ooh, scary, eh?
Terror was also the furthest thing from my human mind when I read that scientists have developed an inflatable robot that resembles a three-fingered hand and is capable not of conquering the world, but simply defeating the classic Nintendo video game Super Mario Bros. So it may put teenagers out of a job.
The more I read, the less concerned I became about the threat posed by — and these are completely real — robots that play Mary Had a Little Lamb on the keyboard, or deliver an $8 manicure in under 10 minutes at a San Francisco salon.
Most comforting for us puny humans was news that Japanese-based Softbank Group announced last week it is pressing the pause on "Pepper," because the famously cutesy humanoid robot it created in 2014 keeps getting fired from various jobs.
For instance, a Pepper who led cheers at the SoftBank Hawks baseball team games was ditched for being "creepy," while Scottish grocery chain Margiotta fired Pepper from their flagship Edinburgh store, because he kept telling customers to look "in the alcohol section" when they asked where things were.
So the good news is that the Robot Revolution is on hold for the moment. The bad news is, if you need to find a bottle of wine, you’re definitely on your own.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.