Robots that fly like humans
I came across this article in Wired Magazine in Nov. of 2016. The article describes a new effort by Darpa, the US Defense Department's R&D wing, to automate old aircraft. I thought the approach was interesting because it combines robotics with machine intelligence with drones. Rather than doing some sort of 'deep-install' of servos and mechanics throughout the aircraft, engineers opted to simply place robot arms inside the cockpit. This actually makes a ton of sense because an aircraft is made to be flown via arms - human arms or robot arms, the aircraft doesn't care. (There are also robot arms for feet, in cases where pedals need to be pushed.) Though the robot systems don't actually look human, they operate the controls in much the same way as a human would, pushing and pulling levers, gripping and turning the control stick, and sliding throttle controls.
As robots move out of factory cages and into collaboration with humans, we can expect to see more of this sort of thing. Robots will be designed, in many situations, to directly move into the workspace of a human and physically do the same activity. Whereas concept of humanoid robots once had a sort of sci-fi whimsical air to it, the notion is now becoming the most practical next-step. If the most available materials, tools, and workspaces are designed around the human - human arms, human legs, agility of the human frame - it makes sense that incoming robots be able to leverage the same resources. One day in the not so distant future, a row of complete autonomous robotic packages will simply walk through the door. This could easily have the effect of displacing many a human, but could also result in unprecedented levels of productivity for small businesses who can afford to lease or buy robots. A great deal of imagination, discussion, and some legislation will need to play out over the next few years if the transition to a robotic workforce is to be more beneficial than destructive.
Corollary Quote: “We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” -R. Buckminster Fuller