'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. ®
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