The human scaled #RoboApoc

This semi-weekly feature scours the internets for news of the Robot Apocalypse (#RoboApoc). I rate each item on a scale of 1 to Skynet

Still stuck in the past.

When I think of robots (which is often) I think of humanoid robots, you know machines that look human. Maybe it is because of the pop culture robots that shaped my childhood, like C-3PO, the Terminator, or even Transformers.

After humanoid robots I think of robots that function in a human understanding of space and time, meaning robots that relate to the natural and human built world in the same scale we do.

My unscientific assumption is that these are the most common robots most people think of when we think of robots. My second unscientific assumption is we do this because we are the center of our own worlds. This explains why so many of the world dominant religions have Gods or figureheads that take on the form of a person (the dominant ones are men) as opposed to a giant kraken .

It is very hard for me to conceive a world, natural or built, outside of the scale of myself. My mental maps, my mental models, all of it relates to my perceptions and my surroundings. It is also, actually, a bit terrifying.

This week I am sharing a handful of developments in the #RoboApoc that are human scaled (in size, in understanding of the world, or in relation to our built world). These developments have impacts on humans, either directly, or through impacting our society. But imagine if robots were building themselves, if data unhinged from physicality, geography, or even time were in charge of constructing the built world, and beings to move through it, what would they build?

Yes Sir, Captain!

1. Captain Robot requesting access to runway 4.  – Researchers have developed a humanoid robot that can fly a flight simulator. Rather than fully automate a plane, they have built an actual machine that can perceive the world and flip switches on the plane console, as well as steer, in order to keep it in the air. The several articles I found about this ask the question why build a humanoid robot to begin with, because, they say it is cheaper to build to the human environment (the plane and its controls) than to completely modify the environment. 

#RoboApoc Rating – 8. Soon they will control the skys.

2. That’s not a Burning Man Art Car, that’s a self driving Semi. A few weeks ago Mercedes unveiled the Future Truck 2025, a self-driving semi. The truck is highway safe and trippy LED front lights replace those pesky old headlights. While Mercedes insists that the truck still needs a driver for more complicated urban and backroad driving, drivers can relax but not check out completely on the big roads.

#RoboApoc Rating – 4. While robots (that is what an automated truck is) driving on highways may be scary now, it will be standard in the future to the point that handing a a set of keys over to a teenager is seen as reckless. Also, we are foolish to think that when the robots attack they will use our highways, our human scaled form of transportation. The truck does free drivers up to do other work (with the help of tablets), like logistics, trip planning etc. This does take away jobs from the home office.


fruit picker
Robot Farm Worker with its overlords

3. The best part, they don’t demand water breaks. A lecturer at Queensland University of Technology in Australia has programmed an off the shelf humanoid robot to pick a cherry off miniature tree. And many in the robot world sighed.

#RoboApoc Rating – 4. First they come for the cherries, then they come for the children. The real threat here is to the people who are currently picking cherries, and doing other similar farm work. Many in Silicon Valley speak of the age of abundance as technology frees us from dreaded labor, they haven’t really distributed that abundance down to the rest of us still stuck in the age of unemployment.






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