I know many here have a pulse on robots and I’m sure most have some opinion on whether they will ever be able to help us Boomers age in place as well as perform other duties that we have trouble finding available help for. I saw this latest video from Boston Dynamics on the front page of the Boston Globe today and thought I would share to see how others react to this (what I think is an) amazing capability.
Eventually? Yes I think it can. I know the BD videos are pre-choreographed. Obviously still very, very impressive. But I’d want to know how long before you can randomly say “I want some tea and cookies” and it goes off and does it.
Then again, ChatGPT is far ahead of what I thought possible…
The thing about these videos is that they (mostly) just show how good the robot is at moving itself.
Granted, it’s impressive. Even further along than the “Dance” video they released two years ago (copied below). But the skills we’d need robots to have in order to be useful at things like “aging in place” or cleaning up around the house have more to do with what a robot can do after it gets to a certain place, not just moving around.
Here, the robot is really good at moving through a complicated, multi-level environment. An enormous achievement. But the only tasks it performed other than moving itself were picking up and placing a board, and picking up and throwing a duffel bag. That’s a long way to go from helping out around the house…
Sure. One step at a time. Progress is being made. And more complex situations are being automated.
I just saw one of those shelf checking robots in a grocery store. Ten years ago, who wooda thunk. And now we have robotic nurses aids. I suppose they do pulse and blood pressure and can bring your meds and maybe a bedpan.
These are areas that take some load off humans. Making them more productive but not completely replacing them. One step at a time.
What’s missing in Boston Dynamics is intelligence. They have shown that the mechanics of humanoid robots is doable which gives Tesla the ability to leverage that technology and marry it with General AI which they are working on. A lot of the infrastructure is being built like Dojo, computer learning, etc.
The real debate is truly about MACRO economics. Our economies are built on growth and Mother Gaia, while huge, is still finite. Going to Mars won’t save Gaia. Until now growth required a growing work force which is like as a dog chasing its tail, the larger the workforce the larger it has to be to feed the growing workforce. Until now the solutions proposed were based mostly on self denial, which the 1% wants to impose on the wasteful 99%. A truly crappy solution.
Humanoid robots that consume less than humans but can do human workforce tasks sounds like a good prescription to stop the dog from chasing its tail without imposing limitations on human desires. It’s a way to reach a stable, sustainable population density.
We already had one or more threads on the subject but the discussion went awry because some were thinking of humanoid robots as expensive specialized labor saving devices like washing machines or vacuum clearers. The humanoid robot is a phase change different from our present machines, it has human capabilities but without the human cravings, desires, and needs which is what breaks the need for population growth.
Elon Musk made an important announcement, that the first Optimists will start working at the Tesla factories. This gives Tesla safe training and proving grounds to develop the General AI that Optimist requires.
Wouldn’t mind my robot being “such a show-off” as long as it could complete a task such as that one. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think we’ll have to wait for too long. And I am not sure how I feel about that.
The way to reach a stable, sustainable population density is to educate young women in fast-reproducing societies, provide them with free (or even affordable) birth control and the cultural freedom to use it. And enough reliable food and water that they truly believe their (few) childen will survive to adulthood.
It won’t help at all to continue high reproduction rates and then give the few remaining jobs to robots.
I think that the “population woes” in the thread title refer to the opposite problem - not enough young people in wealthy developed nations. And in China, apparently, which is going to get old before it gets wealthy. One remedy for that is to do something that vastly improves the productivity of the proportionally diminishing number of workers those societies have.
It is not a binary choice, for some tasks purpose built robots make sense but not all tasks can be precisely preprogrammed, specially not when humans and other life forms are involved. Dogs are a good example, they have the intelligence to herd cattle, retrieve prey, detect drugs, and other do other tasks that non-intelligent robots can’t do, mainly because there are too many variables. Software running airplanes these days is one such example. On Mentour pilot one can find lots of situations too complex for the software to handle.
The humanoid form factor was chosen because the robot is designed to work in human environments, not on regimented factory floors, it is designed to interact with humans, among other things. It is not a one-job thing like a coffee maker or a dish washer, it’s a Jack of All Trades!
Wendy, we are facing contradictory issues, too many people and not enough workers. Economic theory says we need population growth while you present the case for fewer births. China tried the one child policy which led to males outnumbering females based on Chinese cultural preferences, if only one child, a boy is preferred. Look at the mess it created in China. While the methods of population control you advocate are education and technology, the reproduction rate is controlled by economic considerations. On the farm lots of kids are assets, farm hands, in unhealthy localities a necessity because many will die. Population in wealthy societies declines because children are no longer affordable.
The kind of education and subsidies you advocate are possible in wealthy societies but not in subsistence ones. In middling economic societies a contradiction happens.
I did not witness this interchange personally, it was told to me by someone who overheard the conversation. The Chavez regime had a subsidy to help poor women with children, X amount monthly for each child. An expecting mother, in line to get her monthly subsidy, was overheard saying, “With this one I’ll be getting XYZ amount!” For her the children were not seen as a burden but as a source of income. BTW, in Venezuela beggars rent babies to improve the trade. How can you refuse to feed a child?
Unfortunately your suggestion does not take into account the realities of poor societies.
A friend of mine had a young boy do odd chores around her house. She gave the boy a bicycle for Xmas. When he next visited it was with tears in his eyes, “My father took my bicycle and sold it!” She gave him a new one but only to ride while visiting, not to take home. She also told me how to insure that the powdered milk given to poor families would not be sold. The tins of powdered milk have an inner metal foil to preserve freshness and guarantee purity. To stop the sale, remove the inner metal foil to keep buyers from accepting the milk. It’s not just China and the Congo that abuse children. Many poor societies do, they are economic properties, for good or for bad. Children are MACRO Economics!
The world is a complex place. Many countries have moved from “poor” to “middle income” over the past 40 years. (I read a book about this but I don’t remember the name right now.) During this time, millions of girls were able to get an education when previously they would have been sent to work or married very young. These middle-income countries have falling birth rates voluntarily (not forced as in China) as the educated young women choose to have smaller families by using birth control. That’s good for the world by reducing the problem of exponentially growing human populations.
There are still countries with poor rural populations. Even a middle-income country, like India, may have a huge poor population which meets all the conditions you described.
The optimum solution is for more poor areas to be given the opportunity to work their way into the middle-income status. (Of course, this is very difficult, especially in war-torn areas like parts of Africa.)
And for the excess youth of high-reproduction countries to be allowed to immigrate to countries which need more young working people. (Of course, this can be difficult due to political push-back from the aging countries who are culturally opposed to immigration.)
The rubber meets the road when declining birth rates and retiring baby boomers leave us with many job vacancies. Employers respond by raising pay to $14-$16/hr for people who used to earn minimum wage–still $7.50/hr many places.
That helps close the wealth gap. Those people are better paid. But it also raises costs in a time of high inflation.
And it gives employers incentive to automate where ever they get the opportunity.
Economics is never black or white. It’s tough to get your arms around because all the players respond to changes with their own ideas. You drift toward a new equilibrium but sometimes in unanticipated, even unexpected directions.
It’s a trend to watch. How will all the players including immigration officials react?
Wendy, not just ‘over the past 40 years,’ since the dawn of humanity but with occasional regressions like over the past 25 years in Venezuela. The ‘real’ truth is revealed by what you wrote, population growth is controlled by the economy in complex ways, rich economies reduce population growth, middling economies encourage growth, extreme harsh economies cause extinction.
The title of the thread is “Are Robots the answer to our population woes?” My point in this thread is that humanoid robots will fill the labor force void created by shrinking populations just as autos reduced the need for horses and mules.
There is a curious story about how the width of railroad tracks were determined
History does repeat itself!
PS: The sad truth is that some humans are used as beasts of burden, slavery being possibly the worst example. Humanoid robots will reduce the need for human beasts of burden.
There is an important tidbit I forgot to mention,. The press was full of news about bare shelves in supermarkets with extra emphasis on the lack of toilet paper. I managed to get a horde so it never became a personal problem.
But the MSM never mentioned another item that was sorely missing in a country where poor people don’t have access to abortion, condoms!
Robots require CAPEX. Humans are 100% variable cost, no upfront investment. Need more beasts of burden? Humans show up under their own power, already grown and ready. Need to cut costs? You can toss humans on the street and eliminate their costs. Shutting down a robot does not eliminate the costs of servicing the debt incurred to buy it.