Not at your service
Where are the robot butlers and home helps we were promised?
Whenever I have a sleepless night (as I did recently due to a burst water main outside our house) my mind often wanders off onto what I can only characterise as a peculiar manifestation of (in this case) male entitlement: The question of, why haven’t robots replaced me at work? I’m sure I was promised an android by now…
For decades, TV has depicted its ‘visions of the future’, from the boxy robotic home help of black and white American TV to Tomorrow’s World here in the UK. Viewers will recognise an overarching vision of robots taking all the drudgery away, allowing humans to pursue a meaningful life of culture and art – or a meaningless existence without direction and employment, depending on your particular view. Indeed, variations on the theme of machinery taking away our jobs have been around since the industrial revolution and fuelled the Luddite rebellion.
It is nonetheless true that innovations in technology mean that certain tasks or jobs can be managed more efficiently by taking the human element out of the equation. It’s not just blue collar jobs that are at risk; advances in AI and robotics mean that jobs at all levels of society are under threat. A study by Deloitte predicts that 100,000 jobs in the legal sector in England will be automated in the next 20 years.
However, beyond the odd robotic vacuum or lawnmower, we’re yet to see anything like the robot domestic help sci-fi promised us. Perhaps that’s because, while efficiency and financial benefits for automation in the workplace are obvious, it’s less clear if people want an autonomous robot in their house.
What could drive the innovation needed in both AI and robotics to make an android in the home a ‘must have’ item?
Online pornography is widely credited with populising and helping to commercialise the internet in the 1990s, as well as driving the development of streaming video, online credit card payments and increasing bandwidth.
Sex robots are a reality now and, while expensive, possess limited conversation skills and mostly looking like rubberised renderings of constipated porn actresses. But they are leading the way for humanoids in the home.
The case for sexbots is not one I personally look to defend. There’s a bit too much of a whiff of male fantasy about a perpetually compliant, dependent and available woman.
However, what is clear is sex bots represent a convergence of the technologies necessary for the creation of my future robot butler: voice and facial recognition software, motion-sensing technology and animatronic engineering.
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