A self-defeating robot is not a robot programmed to beat itself in games of chess, or designed to lose to humans in a game of basketball. Some people might actually see value in a robot like that. A self-defeating robot is a robot that negates the benefits of automation.
A robot that does your housework for you… sort of
Nobody likes doing household chores. Folding laundry, washing dishes, and picking up belongings that have been left out isn’t fun or rewarding, but these tasks are necessary. A Japanese robotics startup is working on a robot designed to help out around the house. Mira Robotics plans to have its Ugo robot available on the market by 2020.
Ugo doesn’t automate housework, however. Opening doors, folding fabric, and sorting belongings are easy tasks for humans, but robots struggle with these mundane chores. The robot is remote-controlled, which means that it still requires a human operator to complete tasks. Human operators can get around the roadblocks that software cannot. A shirt that drapes in an unexpected way, a deflated ball, or a chair in the middle of the room won’t derail a human in the same way that it does a robot.
Customers would rent Ugo services, and trained operators would do chores remotely. Ugo can’t climb stairs, but it is equipped with a camera so the operator can navigate living spaces and carry out housework.
The purpose of robots
Why do humans make robots? Is it because robotics researchers are inspired by the walking, talking electrical men from science fiction? Maybe it’s because humans are driven to explore, tinker, create, and push technological boundaries. It could be that we build robots because we want to make our lives easier. Regardless of what drives us to design robots, increased convenience is one of the big benefits of automation both at home and in the workplace.
Robots and automated systems are supposed to perform tasks more efficiently than humans can perform them, or at least perform them well enough so that people can focus on more important tasks.
Let’s say that you have a robot that can do a task half as well as a human, and it takes twice as long to complete the task. You might be OK with that if it means that automation frees up your time so you can do something more fun, worthwhile, or meaningful.
We’re content with Roombas slowly hovering around our homes — even though they really aren’t as thorough, fast, or efficient at cleaning floors as us humans — because we don’t have to think about vacuuming anymore. Autonomous vacuum cleaners get our carpets clean enough, and they do it without the need of human control or supervision.
But what if that robot isn’t automated? It’s a remote-controlled robot that requires a human operator. So what you have is a robot that is slower, less efficient, and less skilled than a person, but it still requires a human’s time and attention to complete the task.
Maybe this is acceptable if it removes humans from dangerous environments. Robots in mine shafts, search and rescue robots, bomb squad robots — we need these remote-controlled robots. But most humans can endure the perils of the laundry room.
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