Foreword: unlocking robotics’ full potential
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Robotics has a long history, but only relatively recently have conditions aligned to unlock its full potential. Those conditions are technological, economic, and demographic:
- Cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) enable robots to collaborate and access huge amounts of data uninterruptedly.
- Automation is key to improving productivity across various sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics.
- Societies are using robots to care for older people and address shortages in the workforce.
Science fiction often speculates about robots that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Yet, the most popular consumer robot is still a vacuum cleaner shaped like a disc. In factories and warehouses, human staff work alongside robots that are incredibly good at performing repetitive and dangerous tasks but do not look or behave like humans.
In the future, AI will allow robots to identify human emotions, and the field of soft robotics is developing robots from materials similar to those found in living organisms. There is a chance that one day, life will imitate art, and robots will look like people. If and when that happens, societies will face an ethical conundrum: what rights do we give non-human creatures that look like us?