As well as being a tour of robotics from ancient times to the present day, it’s a reflection on the pros and cons of this great human endeavor.
The history of robots hasn’t always been plain sailing. Humanity is just emerging from a period of disappointment in this regard. Robots were never going to be able to solve all the world’s problems, but they still deserve another chance.
Offering a neutral, objective, and at the same time hopeful vision, “Nosotros, robots” (We robots) is a tour of the virtual robotics exhibition presented by the Universum Science Museum of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in collaboration with the Telefónica Movistar Mexico Foundation.
This presentation is guided by Andrés Ortega, a writer from Spain who narrates the exciting ups and downs in the history of robots in an entertaining and critical way, from the prototypes designed by Leonardo da Vinci to the most modern humanoid ones that now play key roles in areas such as transport and medicine.
According to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, automation, together with the crisis triggered by the pandemic, is creating a scenario known as double disruption. “It’s the current crisis plus the adoption of automation technologies in many companies by 2025,” says Ortega.
This could possibly create more jobs than those that’ll be lost. However, this Spanish writer hits the nail on the head with the following statement:
“Those who lose their jobs won’t be qualified to fill the new jobs due to a lack of knowledge; hence the need for training programs.”
Ortega adds that human beings have to learn to collaborate with robots, and that those who don’t will be left out. “We mustn’t see ourselves as rivals or adversaries. We have to achieve empathy between robots and human beings.”
Pablo Medrano is the director of Casual Robots, a company providing consumer robotics to businesses. He’s a Spanish businessman who agrees with Ortega in the sense that it’s a mistake to think that androids will one day dictate the course that nations should follow.
“Humans should always have a hand in robotics. We have to change this perception that robots make the decisions. People are the ones who make the decisions. Another mistake is to claim that robots, even humanoid ones, can do everything. Robots have to complement people, for their quality of life and enjoyment.”
This idea that robots are going to replace human beings is mistaken, but it’s spread as far as cartoons (as seen with Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons). According to Medrano, this scenario is far from the right balance, which was unforeseen until a decade ago in Japan, a country that had made a lot of progress in android design.
“I’ve always said that service robotics has been a dismal failure for the last 40 years. In Fukushima, (during the unfortunate nuclear accident of 2011) they (the Japanese) didn’t have a single robot that was capable of helping in a social crisis. They had to resort to American robotics.”
“There’s an example of not understanding what real use the technology could have, despite having it ready. That’s what we have to look at, because if we don’t, we’ll make the same mistakes.”
Medrano believes that the pandemic has accelerated everything to do with technology by at least five years, including robotics. The context of this health emergency has opened our eyes to having a more grounded point of view regarding the true usefulness of robots.
“Now, they’re more focused on hospitals, on logistics, but in the end, there’s a benefit to coexistence that doesn’t replace human work or take it away. Robots simply improve it.”