Are Robots a Threat to the Human Race

Published on 05/11/2015

If you believe what you have seen in science fiction films like Ex Machina, iRobot or even the Terminator movies, you’d be expecting robots to take over the world in the not too distant future. The development of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic technology hasn’t quite gone along with the Hollywood scripts, but there have been some big jumps in technology lately. You don’t see it everyday, but robots are an increasing presence in the world around us in work, leisure, defense, basically everything we do – and this has some of the worlds greatest minds concerned. Are robots a threat to humanity and should we be worried?

Are Robots A Threat to the Human Race?

It might seem a little far fetched right now, but the fact is we just don’t know how far AI can go, and some of the world’s greatest minds have spoken out about their concerns and what it will mean for humans.

Threat to the Human Race

One of the greatest ever scientific minds, Prof Steven Hawking, believes that our efforts to create a thinking machine could be our very undoing. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said. Hawking admits that the current forms of AI are useful (he benefits from it himself), but his fears are based on creating something that can potentially surpass humans. “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. Because human development is biologically slow, he argues that we can’t compete and would be “superseded.”

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Bill Gates and Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Future of space travel are in the same camp as Prof Hawking. In a Q & A session, Gates stated “I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.” Musk has gone a step further, claiming that AI is “our biggest existential threat.”

The Growth of AI

Robots have been used in industrial settings for many years now, but the evolution of AI bots is proving intriguing. Baxter, designed by Rethink Robotics, is designed to act as an employee at a typical small business and it can learn and copy a whole range of tasks. Things like packing or food processing are very basic for it. It’s even able to understand the trajectory of something flying through the air, so Baxter can catch. Baxter is a sign of increased intelligence in robots, it’s learns quickly and follows human instructions, this is the beginning of a new line in work smart bots. These kinds of bots are hardly a threat to humanity, but they may be taking up jobs humans would normally have handled.

The Growth of AI

The Growth of AI

Robots Around Us

Robots already play a big part in industrial settings. It’s been predicted that the number of industrial robots will increase by 10 percent per year until 2025. Right now, machines are only handling a fraction of the jobs that they could be used for. They are already very much assimilated into our world, it’s just that you don’t notice them yet. Here’s a look at the main areas robots are already doing their thing:

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Servant Robots
This has always been everyday people’s perceived ‘upside’ to having robots, unquestioning servant bots. Well they are out there. They will follow you around, watch what you’re doing and help out around the house or at work. Aside from bringing you a cold beer on demand, there are some more serious applications though. Budgee, designed by Five Elements Robotics, is a friendly assistant that helps elderly and handicapped people with their everyday lives. Costing around $1,400, it’s a pretty fair price for an extra set of hands around the house.


Robots that sort

Warehouses and industrial workplaces rely heavily on robots. Last year Amazon installed 15,000 robots in 10 of their US warehouses. They reduce operating costs by 20% and work faster. As a worker orders a product , the robot moves around on wheels picking the order required, it’s also able to carry up to 720 pounds. Sensors allow them to detect humans and avoid obstacles.

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Robot drivers

Not the Google self-driving car type, these robots are the emergency response kind. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has issued a huge challenge to robotics engineers for 2015. DARPA requires the bots to drive a car and get out to handle the situation they face. This could be cutting, lifting and any range of tasks at an emergency site. There is a $2 million first prize on offer for the winning team.


NASA has had robots working in space for years. Curiosity has successfully navigated around (admittedly small) areas of the surface of Mars by deciding what’s safe and what’s not. The truth is it only drove 10 meters, but as far as that mission goes, it’s as good as 10 miles.


Self Driving Cars

Firstly, there is the Google self-driving car, which is not new, but worth recapping. They are at testing phase in various locations around the world and in 2015 the newest version is set for testing on San Francisco roads. The driving aggression levels can be controlled, some reports are that they behave like nervous learner drivers…still, it’s better than full throttle petrol heads. One step away from driverless cars is auto piloted vehicles. Tesla has released the model D which has a range of features including radar, camera, sensors, GPS all tied in with brakes and steering so that the car can dodge pedestrians and other cars. It can even change lanes, read street signs and parallel park for you.

Road Ready

Road Ready

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Unmanned Boats

The US Navy has recently tested a fleet of unmanned robotic boats. The boats can act in unison to achieve a task, such as flanking a high value vessel to protect it. The Navy can use up to 50 fewer crew and therefore, expose less lives to risk for certain activities. The boats can carry a variety of weapons depending on the mission.

Unmanned Boat

Unmanned Boat

The Upside of Robots

Just because robots are being used to perform more tasks in the workforce, it’s not necessarily a negative. The upside is that it elevates humans to perform higher level duties, freeing up our time from manual and repetitive jobs. Also, there will be a spike in jobs arising from more robots being used – more need to be designed and built buy humans. The only problem with this argument is if the robots take these jobs and start building themselves, then we will know for sure that we’re in a precarious position.