[Viewpoint]A robotic future

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[Viewpoint]A robotic future

A close friend of mine recently told me that he bought the latest smart phone model. He is well over 50 years old and has been busy playing with his new high-tech toy, learning how to use its various fun features. When I heard of his fascination, I thought the fun would quickly wear off, and soon enough, the phone will become a useless, expensive accessory. However, over a month has passed, and he is still very much into his mobile phone.

What features made him so drawn to the phone? He says his favorites are the business card and schedule manager functions. When he receives a new business card, he can take a picture of it with the cell phone’s built-in camera, which recognizes the text and saves the information in the address book. The newly recorded contact information is automatically updated in his office computer’s main address book. Also, he can put new entries in his scheduler anywhere, and when it is connected to the computer, his schedule is automatically updated. So the phone virtually replaced his secretary in this role. Very soon, Rolodexes and planners will go extinct. The digital convergence through mobile phones is in progress.

Cellular phones have evolved thanks to the various sensors and network infrastructure added to the phone. Image and text recognition through the camera and voice recognition through the microphone have made mobile phones smarter, and the haptic technology which recognizes touch has enabled cell phones to do things unimaginable in the past. Telecommunications technology also provides solid support to make cell phones the main technology device of the day. When I look at today’s cell phones, I wonder how the future of the digital world will evolve and whether the phone will still be central to human life in 10 years.

The fast-paced 21st century is unfolding in a clearly different paradigm compared to the last century. The 20th century was a period of quantitative change with energy consumption, population growth and development of science and technology, starting with the industrial revolution. The 21st century is the age of qualitative reform to pursue improvement in the quality of life for humanity that had been overlooked in the last century. The scientific and technological developments are geared to achieve such changes, and the innovative breakthrough technologies include biomedical science and stem cell research, network-based information science and semiconductor-based nano technology. However, in order for these technologies to influence our environment more directly and visually, a technology to creatively integrate them is needed; enter robotic technology with artificial intelligence. In other words, artificial intelligence-based robotics gives products human features to accommodate friendly and natural communication and provide a more convenient environment.

At today’s pace, I believe that in the near future, intelligent robots will take over the role of the cellular phone. After all, robots have two features that a cellular phone can never provide. The first is active service. While you have to carry a cell phone to use it when needed, a robot can approach you to provide service. It will remember the time to take pills when you are sick, run errands when you are busy and do the dishes when you are tired. Robots can serve us a level of luxury that only aristocrats could afford in the past.

The second function is human communication. Robots will take a form to resemble humans equipped with the five senses so they will be a new companion with whom we can communicate. In a postmodern society of accelerated aging and distinct individualism, robots will have a solid place to help communication among people and provide real help. They will act as companions to the lonely elderly and massage their stiff shoulders.

Soon enough, a conversation like this will be commonplace: “I heard you got a new robot. You change yours so frequently!” “Oh, a new model came out, and I loved the new features. I even received a discount to upgrade to a new model!”

*The writer is the director of the Intelligent Robot Research Institute at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Mun-sang

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