The Rise of the Planet of the Robots

Last week I visited the eCommerce Expo for work and I couldn’t help but spot an ongoing theme throughout the day – The rise of the robots!

Each time I turned a corner in the maze of exhibits filling the event space, I was faced with yet another tool or ‘bot’, offering to transform our working lives. Honestly, they had automated services for everything, from customer service to *wait for it*…copywriting! Duh duh duh! I better hope that doesn’t catch on!

So, it got me thinking. It’s a long-standing debate, but could robots really take over our jobs? Or, even more, could they be running the world one day?

Just think about what robots can already achieve. It’s 2017 and  3D printers can replicate organsreal life organs…which can save real human lives….

…The likes of Google and Amazon have created voice-activated smart speakers, which can perform everyday tasks, such as controlling the lighting/heating in the house, shopping and…even holding a conversation (better than some humans!)…

…Call centres filter and respond to calls with automated services and voice recognition (though we usually wish they wouldn’t!)…

…And soon, we may even have driver-less cars on the road…

…Not to mention the obvious. PCs and laptops have earned a place in nearly every household and workplace in then UK. How do you think I’m writing this very blog post?

3D printed organ, Amazon Echo, Driverless car

Sorry, what’s that? Humans who?

Of course, none of these gadgets are the iRobot style humanoids that you may envisage when conjuring up a picture of what a ‘robot’ looks like. These intricate pieces of technology don’t have a face…or feelings – they’re still a far-cry from resembling human form. This doesn’t stop them from mimicking human behaviour, however, and in a way that’s all the more unnerving.

At the Expo, I spoke to a man representing a company that has designed a tool that uses artificial intelligence to generate optimised email copy…No human required. In fact, they even market their tool with the promise that it can write better copy than humans. Hmmm…is that a challenge?

Being in a creative job, I always believed I’d be safe from the rise of the robots – Surely technology can’t have an imagination? Now I’m not so sure.

On this note…I decided to have a bit of a dig through Google, to find out the full extent of what robots are capable of in the creative industry.

Firstly, I uncovered an article about a robot called Emily Howell (yes, it..sorry she…even has a name!). For an experimental project, she was fed the works of every single classical composer in existence and told to analyze the music for patterns. After much examination, she was then capable of composing her very own piece of music using her new found musical knowledge.

“Ok”, I thought, “Clever…but I bet a robot can’t sing!”

Ok…Just a tad creepy, I don’t think we have anything to worry about there! Adele, you can keep your day job.

 

Painting by Robot e-David

Painting by e-David

 

Delving further, I found that in a similar fashion to the music, robots can create a piece of art, adopting a similar technique used by an existing artist or…even write a novel?

Surely not! It takes a great deal more to write fiction than simply an expansive vocabulary – it requires life experience, empathy and emotion, right?

There are, however, a number of projects underway to create a piece of technology that can write it’s very own fictional literature – A Japanese AI programme just wrote a short novel and it almost won a literary prize! Don’t worry…so far, these tools are highly reliant on the input of humans, which at least, offers some sort of comfort for the time being.

I’m yet to be convinced that a robot can match the literary talent and originality of some of our greatest writers in the future though, no matter how advanced the technology. For example, could a machine really recreate the poetic beauty of William Shakespeare’s plays, Charles Dickens’ remarkable use of metaphors or Stephen King’s unsurpassed ability to build suspense? Only time will tell!

Personally, I dread the thought of robots playing these roles. Creations such as art, writing or music come from the heart and are so unique to the individual behind it. Throw an algorithm in there and you’re presented with the same re-worked content. Snore! There are so many benefits in some industries, for example medicine, transport, manufacturing and even simply for daily chores…but please don’t take away genuine creativity!

What do you reckon – can you see a future where robots have taken over from humans in the workplace and beyond? And how do you feel about it?

Video and images credit: The Mirror, Business Insider, CNN, the Guardian and Zipcar

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