In a perfect world, we should all be hailing the onset of the age of robots, as our burdens would be about to be shared by the mechanical, miraculous helpers.
Things being as they are, we watch in worry as the new technologies emerge, wondering what new fresh horrors they will unleash on the unsuspecting humankind.
Case in point: China disclosed its new, ambitious plans to mass-produce humanoid robots – which it says are poised to be as ‘disruptive’ as smartphones.
In a document published last week, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said the robots would ‘reshape the world’.
Business Insider reported:
“The MIIT said that by 2025 the product will have reached an ‘advanced level’ and be mass-produced. It made the statements in the development goals listed in its road map. ‘They are expected to become disruptive products after computers, smartphones, and new energy vehicles’, a translation of the document added.”
The document is short on details but big on ambition, but some Chinese companies are tackling the country’s robotic ambitions in earnest.
“The Chinese startup Fourier Intelligence, for example, said it would start mass-producing its GR-1 humanoid robot by the end of this year, South China Morning Post reported. The company, which has a base in Shanghai, told the publication it aspired to deliver thousands of robots in 2024 that could move at 5 kilometers an hour and carry 50 kilograms.”
The US is also leading efforts in this race, as you would expect. Agility Robotics is to open a robot factory in Oregon to build ‘hundreds’ of its bipedal robots.
The bots can mimic human movements such as walking, crouching, and carrying packages.
Amazon is in the pilot phase of testing Agility Robotics’ Digit robot to automate its warehouses.
“Agility Robotics CEO Damion Shelton told Insider: ‘In the near term, we expect a slow and steady uptick of Digit deployments’. He added: ‘We believe mass integration will eventually occur, but bipedal robots are still a relatively new advancement’.
Even Tesla is developing its own humanoid robot, named Optimus, or Tesla Bot, as Elon Musk disclosed in 2021. But it still has a long way to go before it’s ready for mass production; Musk said at a Tesla AI Day event in 2022 that it was the first time the prototype had walked ‘without any support’ when it walked onto the stage.”
The difference is that Chinese government is pushing mass production of humanoid robots on an incredibly rapid timetable.
“The country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has issued a nine-page advisory calling on the country’s manufacturing sector to “establish a humanoid robot innovation system, make breakthroughs in several key technologies and ensure the safe and effective supply of core components” by 2025, and to become the global leader in the tech by 2027.
The MIIT is specifically looking for the industry to develop — bear in mind there may be some translation issues here — the “brain,” “cerebellum,” and “limbs” of humanoid robots aided by recent leaps in artificial intelligence capabilities.”
The Chinese ministry called for robots to be usable in “harsh” and dangerous conditions.
This may well mean benign usages such as firefighting or rescue missions, but it may be part of the scary race that United States and China have been engaged – to create so-called ‘killer robot’ warships, fighter jets, and – why not? – killer humanoid robots.