The Robotic Age: A Wish from the Ancients Comes True

Humans have been dreaming of robots--automated mechanical systems that do the work for us--since the dawn of time. Mechanical helpers are found in the ancient mythologies of Greece, China, and Egypt. Leonardo da Vinci sketched plans for a mechanical knight. The Jetson's robotic maid, Rosie, popularized the view that, in the future, we'd all have mechanical wait-staffs to clean the house, help the children with homework, and guard us against intruders.

Today, we are experiencing the dawn of the robotic age, and the dream of a drudgery-free life is closer than ever. While a Rosie in every home is still 10-20 years out, we are seeing explosive growth in the industrial robotics industry (pay attention investors: 6% annual growth predicted through 2017!).

Simply put, robots are responsive computers that are typically programmed to go where humans can't (Mars, combat, inside of the small intestine) or to perform precise, repetitive tasks (assembly lines, security monitoring, and, of course, cleaning).  Here are a three inspiring examples of roles robots will be playing in our lives:

1. Helping

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 88 American children are diagnosed with autism, a neural disorder that impairs communication and interaction skills. This article in MIT Technology Review introduces a social robot that is therapeutic for autistic children. Being that they’re robots, they don’t tire of the repetition autistic children require, nor of exercises that help them improve motor control and sensory and cognitive skills. By monitoring eye contact from the children, the robots even help with early diagnosis.

2. Teaching

Another notable development is the robot that teaches children computer programming skills, a monotonous job that humans can tire of quickly. These robots, created by a company called Play-i, communicate with Bluetooth LE by way of a tablet, which kids are pretty much masters of these days. These robotic programs enable children to play, build and learn by exploring and interacting instead of simply memorizing. Gone are the days of flashcards and recall – now it’s all about instant feedback and repetitive play.

3. Delivering

Finally, we all heard the monumental announcement Jeff Bezos made on 60 Minutes about Amazon Air, the drones that will deliver Amazon orders directly to our doorsteps within 30 minutes. Imagine this: you’re mixing up some homemade pasta dough for a big dinner and realize you don’t have a pasta roller. Instead of running to the store and possibly not delivering your dinner on time, you place an order online and your roller is at your doorstep a mere half hour later. It's a bold dream, one that must make the Gods happy and Leonardo smile.