Robotics: Automation or Artificial Intelligence?

The rise of robotics – a long touted seismic shift in human existence, the day an inanimate creature is brought to life.  A scary reality in the minds of many conspiracy theorists, and a reality many tech leaders would have us believe is already upon us.  But how close are we to engineering a robotic race?

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

George Orwell, 1984

It’s difficult to not think about physical robots tackling common human tasks when we see the word robotics, but now robotics refers to a much larger application of technology and rising industry. Robotics refers to a focus on creating efficiency and replicating mundane tasks, a world that exists beyond purely physical robots, giving rise to automation bots.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an example of an automation bot operating in a digital world. You may be thinking, obviously it’s automation, it’s even in the name, but what is RPA? Used to perform simple, repetitive tasks, such as data entry, RPA is a programmable “bot” that automates a process in order to free up more time for humans that would otherwise be doing these mundane tasks. RPA cannot be considered Artificial Intelligence as it does not have the ability to understand the implications of the tasks it is performing, or predict future scenarios arising from the performance of these tasks.

Amazon Scout

In contrast, Amazon’s Scout is out on the streets in California, a physical robot, making package deliveries.  This Scout robot may be physical and operate in the real world but similarly to RPA it is another example of automation, lacking human intuition. Just like RPA this Scout robot is programmed to deliver a package straight to your door, removing this repetitive task, lessening the burden on man and machine, but the bot is not capable of modifying the delivery location to the back door under the overhang when rain is predicted, unless the delivery instructions are explicitly programmed to do so.  Far from artificial intelligence, the Scout is simply a machine programmed to automate a repetitive human function.

While individuals commonly mistake robotics as artificial intelligence, it’s important to understand why RPA and delivery robots are not examples of true artificial intelligence. Are they intelligent bots? Maybe. They certainly process and execute complicated instructions and factor many variables, but they lack inherent cognitive function.  Humans are constantly concerned about the demise of humanity as robots are brought to life, but because artificial intelligence still lacks the ability to replicate common sense, the rise of the robotic race will still remain in the halls of science fiction.



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