A few links illustrating how this is going to change people's lives and change whole economies, not just because robots are getting better but because they are getting cheaper. Exhibit 1 is a machine called Baxter. Here's an extract from a new book, The Second Machine Age, which explains the advances being attempted by Rodney Brooks, founder of a company called Rethink Robotics:
In 2008 Brooks founded a new company, Rethink Robotics, to pursue and build untraditional industrial automation: robots that can pick and place jelly jars and handle the countless other imprecise tasks currently done by people in today’s factories. His ambition is to make some progress against Moravec’s paradox—the idea, as roboticist Hans Moravec observed, that it’s “comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.” What’s more, Brooks envisions creating robots that won’t need to be programmed by high-paid engineers; instead, the machines can be taught to do a task (or retaught to do a new one) by shop floor workers, each of whom need less than an hour of training to learn how to instruct their new mechanical colleagues. Brooks’s machines are cheap, too. At about $20,000, they’re a small fraction of the cost of current industrial robots.
Exhibit 2 comes from MIT Technology Review:
A Dutch man who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident nine years ago is now able to feel different kinds of pressure on three fingers of a prosthetic, robotic hand. The work involved a new kind of implanted device that delivers feedback directly to the remaining nerves in the man’s arm. The implant was left in place for 31 days, allowing the man to feel gradations of touch pressure, depending on the amount of electrical stimulus delivered.
And lastly, a feel-good story from the US state of Kansas about 16-year-old high school student Mason Wilde (video above):
When he was 4 years old, he took apart his mother’s dining room table and gliding ottoman. Last year, he built a computer, pretty much from scratch.
But it’s what the 16-year-old Louisburg High School junior made about two months ago that has him most excited these days. Not because it was so challenging, but because it’s already changing the life of a family friend’s 9-year-old son who was born without fingers on one hand. Using a 3-D printer at the Johnson County Library, Wilde made a prosthetic hand that opens and closes and can even hold a pencil.