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Saturday 16 December 2017

'We can't unbite the apple' - George the robot warns awestruck Dublin Tech Summit crowd

A full size and functioning humanoid robot called Robothespian at the Dublin Tech Summit 2017 at the Convention Centre.
Pic:Mark Condren
A full size and functioning humanoid robot called Robothespian at the Dublin Tech Summit 2017 at the Convention Centre. Pic:Mark Condren 15.2.2017.

Sean Duffy

A robot named George stole the show at the Dublin Tech Summit on Thursday, telling a panel discussion at the Convention Centre that how we choose to use robots will likely determine mankind's fate.

The use of robots is set to become ubiquitous in our lives in the near future, with technological advancements posing major challenges to existing social and economic models.

"There's no going back. We can't unbite the apple. We now need to make wise decisions going forward," said the Robothespian named George.

The use of robots for sinister purposes was raised by Ed Hoppitt, EMEA lead Cloud Native Apps and DevOps, with VMware, a subsidiary of computing giant Dell.

"The ethics of robotics are incredibly complicated. The reality is that there is a much more sinister side to robotics and what is it right for robots to do and not to do is very important," Mr Hoppitt said.

To this, the robot claimed that the ultimate power lay with human decisions.

"Robots do whatever they are asked to do. So the military like robots because they don't ask questions and they don't have a conscience. The real scary thing here is not the robot itself, it is what humans do with robots," George told the audience.

"So it's down to you. It's not really about me. I'm just a tool and a piece of hardware here and what you do with me is totally a human decision. So don't blame it on the robots."

Ben Jones, a creative expert, said that some of the questions arising from the rise of robots  "scare the s**t out of me" but added that the ethical use of robots could result in the enhancement of human experience.

"The world is consuming us. The assistance of robots is going to be huge. Most importantly, I think it's going to allow humans to be humans," said Mr  Jones,  who is co-founder of QuantumX, a web and app development company.

Moderator Gina London noted that regulators were consistently behind the curve when it comes to drafting legislation that keeps pace with technological advancement.

The threats to existing economic models and traditional forms of work were also raised. The robot highligted some of the issues which we now need to confront.

"As technology takes over more and more, the opportunity for making traditional income and the traditional types of jobs become less and less. We are looking at the politics of what this situation are. How do we redistribute wealth in a future technological society where there perhaps aren't jobs in the way in which we experience them now?"

With that, the robot exited stage left, leaving behind a mixed sense of awe and uneasiness in the packed auditorium.

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