Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I, Doofus.

I never brought it up in my previous post about the Discovery Channel show 2057, primarily because it wasn't mentioned all that much in the show itself, the prospect of robots. Now, considering how fantabulously cool robots are, the fact that robots were barely mentioned, I think, betrays how non-viable robots are as a real aspect to our near future.

Most of our visions of near-future robots were created decades ago, but great sci-fi writers. What's funny is that their near-future musings placed us IN the near-future. We are in the age of robots, as futurists so many moons ago so thought. Where are the butler-bots, Rosies, and Datas? They're not here, that's where. The best we have is a robotic vacuum cleaner that doesn't do a very good job.

As far as futurists go, the age of robots doing everything under the sun is always just a few years away. The pinnacle of our achievement is still Asimo, who is now seven years old, and his abilities are extremely limited and costs nigh on a million dollars to make. Would you pay a million dollars for a robot with limited abilities or three years for a maid/butler with vast, adaptive abilities?

Robots are not viable today and will not be viable for a long time coming. For the far-foreseeable future, robots will be very expensive, which means that they will be the exclusive domain of people with money, who will be much better served with human servants. Think the prices will come down and allow the working stiffs who could actually use the help to buy robots? Think again.

Crap in today's economy is cheap. It's only getting cheaper, too. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to mechanics. Cars are getting more expensive, not less. Things like computer printers, lawn mowers, and bicycles all cost the same as they did years ago or more. It's because mechanical products cost a fixed amount to make. You can make manufacture more efficient, you can reduce labor costs, and you can find cheaper materials, but you can only go so far. Our crap is getting so hideously cheap because of a move towards inexpensive, easy-to-make, solid-state devices. This only applies to robots to a degree. What we can easily make cheap in robots has been cheap for a decade; the computer parts. The other parts, the motors, gears, servos, sensors, and the like, are expensive now, they were expensive ten years ago, and they'll be expensive ten years in the future.

Robots will not be cheap for a very, very long time. By 2057, they may only cost multiple thousands (In today's money), but for what end? Will people actually decide that they should get a loan to buy a robot to help them around the house so they can work more to afford the robot? I seriously doubt it. I can imagine a market of lazy people with few financial obligations buying a cleaning robot. Or perhaps robot janitors who can clean 24/7 for corporations who have run out of Mexicans. These are very speculative ideas about small markets. Regardless, the idea of a future full of robots doing things is bunk. It was bunk with Asimov, and it's bunk with Asimo.

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