Robots are an invention of science fiction. How ‘intelligent’ will they become? Will they really take over? Or are they just helpers that alleviate tasks that are too dangerous, too hard or too tedious? How do we control them? Or will they control us?
When robots first arose from the lines of the Czech science-fiction drama R.U.R: Rossum’s Universal Robots in 1920 they were just artificially produced labourers. They were efficient, cheap and without any workers rights, just a product that boosted global production in a perfect circle. But they did not like that. The circle short-circuited. Čapek’s drama unfolds the story of the robots’ insurrection that is now so familiar to us.
Nobody knew then that the robots had come to stay. They had come to stay in the human imagination. They obviously hit a nerve, but why? Was it because of the looming threat of workers seizing the means of production as they had done in Russia – or so it seemed? Was it because the experience of war-torn human bodies and the rise of prosthetics made the idea of building humans from scratch seem less far-fetched? Was it the impact of the production line that churned out mass-produced cars by means of unskilled workers?
Whatever the reasons, robots became fictional staples long before the first industrial robots hit the factory floors – which are still falling short of expectations nurtured by science fiction. Robots got their own laws and their psychologists when Isaac Asimov started to write his robot stories about 20 years after Čapek’s play. His ‘laws of robotics’ that were written to keep insurgent robots at bay keep popping up in discussions about ethical restrictions on artificial intelligence until today:
A robot may not injure humans, it must obey their commands and it must protect itself. These laws were deeply embedded in the programming of the robots ‘positronic’ brain, its central processing unit that is, by all accounts, a fully-fledged AI.
In the reviewed value studies, robots are defined as machines with advanced artificial intelligence or machine learning processes that serve people at an individual level.
According to the QVC study "Living 2038", the interaction between robots and humans has not peaked yet. It is assumed that robots will soon be able to recreate the human voice. In science fiction, the movie Robot & Frank (2012) reflects these aspects of future robots. The film features a humanoid robot designed to assist individuals in every aspect of daily life. Other movies such as Robocop (1987) or Chappie (2015) showcase the involvement of intelligent robots in law enforcement.