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Robots On The Rise

Publication Date: 
August 14, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
James Temple

Ryan Calo, CIS Director of Privacy and Robotics, spoke with James Temple of the San Francisco Chronicle about the evolution of robots and how he expects them to soon "transform our everyday lives as much as the PC and Internet."

Technical manuals and popular fiction helped thrust robots into the popular imagination in the late 1970s, cast in the twin archetypes of mechanical monsters or tin sidekicks.

But for technical, financial and other reasons, the grand promise - or grave threat - of the rise of robots never came to pass. (We're still waiting on our jetpacks, too.)

Several decades later, Ryan Calo, a legal privacy expert at Stanford, believes we're finally on the precipice of a genuine robot revolution. He expects it will transform our everyday lives as much as the PC and Internet did.

Calo says the limitations that prevented robots from breaching the consumer marketplace - the occasional Roomba or toy pet notwithstanding - are falling away one by one. Robots can now climb walls, drive cars, perform surgery and fold laundry. Meanwhile, technology advances have sent prices tumbling.


Q: A lot of us could hardly imagine a world without PCs and the Internet today. How will robots similarly change our lives?

A: Initially, robots will enable people who can't do something today to do that thing.

The elderly or infirm who otherwise couldn't be in their homes independently because they needed some kind of assistance getting up or opening something, will suddenly be able to do those things. Or perhaps people who are too young or old or don't see well enough to drive will be able to get around because robotic systems will help them.

The truth is robots have touched all of our lives. They defend us, and they make a lot of the things we use and buy. If you've used or, then likely a robot went into the warehouse and retrieved the item.

But they're just kind of invisible to us. That will be the other big change: They'll be co-present.

You'll see them through the doorway that leads to the kitchen at restaurants, or in the hospital delivering samples. We'll start to see robots doing tasks that robots can probably do better or more efficiently.