December 22, 2015
Robots aren’t going to replace us, but by working hand in hand with us they will redefine what it means to be human.
The year is 2025. You’re sitting in a surgery watching your doctor carefully insert the tips of her fingertips into black thimble-like actuators.
A screen in front of the doctor flashes with the image of a glistening tunnel of flesh and, as she huddles over the controls, you feel a stirring in your bowels.
That gelatinous mass you feel coming to life inside you found its way into your body 24 hours earlier, when you swallowed a pill that looked unremarkable, save for its bulk.
But now this package of edible electronics will allow the doctor to feel inside your body without making a single incision, effectively taking the tips of the doctor’s fingers and transplant them onto the exterior of the robotic pill.
When the robot presses against the interior of the intestinal tract, the doctor will feel the sensation as if her own fingers were pressing the flesh.
This is the coming world of augmented humans, where technology gifts people senses, skills, and strengths never before available.
The swallowable robot is only one scenario that researchers in Bristol in the west of England are working to make a reality, as part of research that seeks to use bots to enhance, rather than replace, people.
Other projects include work to allow surgeons to operate on people located miles away with superhuman precision, and managers to split their day between offices situated on opposite sides of the world.
The conversation about robots today so often revolves around fears of how they will replace us, rather than help us.
Yet as the research taking place at Bristol shows, robotics is “more about augmenting people than it is about making them obsolete,” says Professor Anthony Pipe, deputy director of Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
He sees this research as reflecting a future where robots and humans enjoy a more symbiotic relationship—where robots work alongside people, enhancing their capabilities.
“There are lots of areas where robots could help humans do things,” said Pipe. “That’s really one of the big new areas. So as opposed to replacing humans, helping humans will be a large area for growth.”
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