'Robots can save America', says Obama
'As C-in-C I can assure you the machines seem peaceful'
President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to revitalise the economic health of the USA by deploying a mighty nationwide task force of robots.
In a speech delivered on Friday launching the National Robotics Initiative – part of the wider Advanced Manufacturing Initiative – the President sought to boost US efforts in automation and robotics. However he confirmed that he and his administration remain alert to the well-known risk of a Rise of the Machines.
Speaking at the famous robotics arm of Carnegie Mellon university in Pittsburgh – the organisation which gave the world the 500-tonne unmanned Godzilla-lorry, the multiple-personality schizophrenic droid dog and the miniaturised robot Jesus – Mr Obama said:
"You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief [of the US armed forces] is to keep an eye on robots. And I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful – at least for now."
The President went on to suggest that US manufacturing can be revitalised with the help, among other things, of robots. In essence the idea is that advanced technology can lead to productivity so massive that US-based industry will still be able to compete with overseas rivals while at the same time paying decent wages and supporting its workers in comfortable middle-class lifestyles.
As to how the federal government can help, the President envisages various government bodies such as NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and our old friends at the Pentagon bonkers-boffinry-bureau DARPA stepping in. Government seed money will kick off the new technologies, and private industry – with the early high-risk investments made for them by the taxpayer – will then leap in and give birth to the new sunrise businesses that will allow Americans to live in the style to which they would like to remain accustomed.
Mr Obama, illustrating his thoughts, pointed to recent initiatives and products including sewer-inspection droids and DARPA's recent use of crowdsourced design to rapidly produce a new armoured vehicle which might nominally be used by US troops at some point.
He also offered an example of how government R&D funding can turn into huge profitable businesses – an example which will either chill the reader's blood or produce a warm and fuzzy feeling, depending on their view of the world.
"I'll take one example. The National Science Foundation helped fund Stanford's Digital Library Project in the 1990s. The idea was to develop a universal digital library that anybody could access. So two enterprising PhD students got excited about the research that was being done at Stanford – this is funded by NSF. So these two PhD students, they moved from campus to a friend's garage, and they launched this company called Google."
Up to $50m of research cash annually may become available under the Robotics Initiative alone, according to NASA estimates. ®
Obama is a shill
I don't rightly grasp how would adding robots into a job-scarce society would help reactivate the economy.
In Isaac Asimov's stories, humanity had already resolved the poverty problem. Introducing robots would torpedo any improvement society could make.
Historically, when cheaper means of production become available, it does not automatically improve standards of life. It just means money flows more easily to the already overpaid and overprivileged plutocrats.
I find it quaint, when I read that introducing things that are supposed to make your life easier end up causing your quality of life to plummet. People are not working less and less. They are being forced to make more with less.
I had dreams of robots improving life but a quick reality-check with the dystopian world we live at reminded me why this is a bad idea.
In the 1930's a lathe was operated by a man who turned the knobs and made the part - slowly. In the 1960's the lathe was automatic and driven by complex cams and levers requiring extensive setup, now the lathe is driven by computers, is fully automated, 10 or more can be looked after by one guy. Robots are used to assemble cars, cut metal, solder circuit boards, make silicon chips... They don't have to 'walk around' to be useful - that is sc-fi rubbish. What is really needed in the USA (and the UK) is some reeducation of the company bosses and accountants. Employing 1 Brit to oversee some machines vs 1 Chinese man is not so radicallly more expensive. Losing a container of goods at sea and missing the Christmas rush is somewhat more expensive (remember the Tracey Island fiasco a few years back)..
The UK and US needs to educate the company leadership, they need to ensure cheap and plentiful energy, ensure cheap and reliable (rail probably) transport for goods, and above all cheap capital. If my machine costs 100k to buy but the interest rate is 10% then frankly I'm not going to buy it, I will go to China where the interest rate is near zero.
But robot beancounters
could show more signs of humanity