I've had several lively discussions in the last few months about the possible implications of an increasingly automated society. As a designer of a system (Action Oriented Workflow) that is made to automate much of the completion of repetitive actions taken by employees in various lines of business this topic has been a focus of my analysis for nearly 10 years now. In the context of software designed to enable users to work on business critical object in applications designed for various verticals, this idea of automation requires the study of workflow interactions and business processes across multiple user and system interactions that can be distributed across the world. The problem space is huge and with AgilEntity platform I've created a solution that will generalize across verticals. The analog of AE in the physical realm though lies in the advances that are being made in the field of robots and the sister field AI, that is now enabling the creation of astonishingly life like robots in the ways that they "experience" the world and as well navigate within the world.
I recently had a discussion where I made the assertion that human beings are in a precarious position as far as automation of manual tasks is concerned. The last 10 years has seen the development of amazing technologies for enabling robots to ambulate and sense their surroundings without the massive amounts of computational muscle that were previously believed to be required prior to 15 years or so. The emergence of neural network and statistical methods for storing solution patterns to real time experienced situations and then comparing those patterns to in coming experiences has enabled the refinement of robotics to the point that natural walking quadrapedal and bipedal robots are on the horizon. Outstanding examples of both are found in the bigdog and petman projects of the DARPA funded Boston Dynamics. However, the advances will continue and they will accelerate as the various areas of cognitive function that we have in our brains are modeled using these techniques...eventually (within the next 20 years) we will have fully autonomous walking robots that ambulate and are as dexterous as the fluidity of human beings. I believe that beyond this point the ability for robots to completely take over the role of humans in the manufacturing sector will be complete. Once this is so, humans will be able to have robots find and extract the natural resources needed to build our world.
As AI continues to refine and cross sensory advances continue, robots will be able to understand and enhance their own construction, people like Ray Kurzwiel have talked on this subject matter but what interests me is not so much that robots will be able to build robots but that once they are able to do this, then we will be removed from the loop. Once robots can be enabled to build and repair their brethren, humans will be able to benefit from the efforts of the infrastructure of robots created to perform various tasks without requiring any investment, time or mental effort. We will be able to command the robots to perform actions for us and rest secure in their ability both to extract any necessary raw materials and fashion those raw materials into the required products.
The objections I've encountered involve the capitalistic aims of any organization or company that builds these robots. Will the heads of industry ever feel the need to relinquish their massive profit cow to the world in an effort to free man from all types of burden, will they emancipate their bots???? My argument is:
"The closer you get to the top of the mountain the easier it is to start an avalanche."
As these captains of future industry build their infrastructures and wealth, the pressure to perform a philanthropic act will mount. Just as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have promised to donate the majority of their personal fortunes to the benefit of man, so to will these future philanthropists be willing to aid man once they've fattened their coffers enough. Some will chose not to, but all it takes is one individual to bring this idea to fruition. I believe that the age of the self healing infrastructure won't be with us for another 30 years but when it comes it will usher in a change in the history of humanity, we will go from reliant on our selves in every metric to gain survival to relying on the tools we have created and given the ability provide for us.