How possible is Star Wars? Part III: Would droids leave humans without any work to do?

May 17, 2017

Anyone who has the least bit of familiarity with Star Wars knows that many of its most beloved characters aren’t flesh and blood. These characters, made of metal, are robots, or “droids” as they

are called in the movies. While droids like C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 may be created to serve humans, they also have self-awareness and a will to preserve their own existence.

In the Star Wars Universe, droids do much more than fill menial jobs. Many of them work as bounty hunters, scientists, physicians, pilots and diplomats.

Sound outlandish?

For many people, that’s exactly where they see the future of robotics going.

But is it possible?

Well, if you’ve been paying attention, it sure looks that way … depending on what you mean by “aware” and “self-preservation.”

The stage we’re closest to for robotic self awareness is the ability to distinguish itself from others. It may not sound like much, but it reflects decades of research.

What could this lead to?Well, think about it. If we have expensive machines with a sense of self-preservation, you open a door to many possibilities.

Imagine robot security guards that are able to deduce whether a person is supposed to be in a certain place or not, You’d have a guard programmed with the face of every company employee who can access the boss without taking its eyes off a person.

How about robotic doctors loaded with an instantly accessible database of every medical text ever known, which is also able to create theories of its own. Not only is your care being conducted by something with the steadiest of “hands” (if they’d even use hands) but something able to diagnose something almost instantly. It’s the next logical step considering we have robots performing some surgeries today.

Or, what about a military that sends these self-aware robots to the front lines? Instead of machines that march forward mindlessly, getting blown away, what if they fought tactically? Think of machines that have every military tactic ever recorded built in with the ability to adapt new ones. No need for boot camp, no need for training — everything is just built in.

And that is one advantage that robots have on everything. They don’t need to learn like we do. Everything done before can just be transferred to them without spending hours training or learning once one robot has accomplished it.

Look at the self-driving cars we have today. They get better all the time. You don’t have to teach every single car to drive. Once one car learns it, they all learn it.

Changing times

Just a decade ago, many of us probably weren’t thinking such a thing would be possible. But within the next decade and a half, we’ll probably see self-driving vehicles everywhere, especially in shipping.

Almost every task we can think of can probably be done by a robot eventually: Cooking, cleaning, teaching, policing, firefighting … even reporting.

Of course, that’s still a long way off. But a “long way off” isn’t as long as it used to be. In the 1980s and even early 2000s, we might of thought that meant centuries. Now, it looks like just decades.

Humans … who needs ’em?

That leaves the question: What will our place be?

Star Wars didn’t quite answer that question. In the Star Wars Universe, flesh and blood beings still do most everything while robots do a rather narrow set of specialized tasks.

But, considering we as humans tend to like making things either as easy or time-saving as possible, we’ll probably have robots and AI handling what we call the “9-5 jobs” now.

Does that mean we’ll be a bunch of do-nothing lumps who eat Doritos and play Call of War all day long?

I doubt it, in relation to them, we’d probably be the ultimate failsafe and backup. Unlike them, we’re not affected by solar storms, EMPS, rust, power failures … we don’t shutdown when the power’s off.

Some people might not like that, but hey, it is a pretty good insurance policy if robots go haywire and take a notion to become overlords, which I doubt they will.

It’s happening now

To those who think this sounds ridiculous, keep this statistic in mind: The U.S. lost 5.6 million manufacturing jobs from 2000-2010. Eighty-five percent of those losses were due to automation, aka robots.

So robots are already impacting our lives. They’re here to stay and they’re going to grow beyond manufacturing. So get used to the idea that one day, you may find yourself on a plane that flies itself with a flight attendant who happens to be made of metal.

The droids are on the horizon.

Originally printed in the Batesville Daily Guard
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