Need or Luxury – Farid Shirinfar

I’m glad I’m taking this class as every week I’m introduced to new ideas. The lectures have diversified my taste by presenting ideas and music genres that I would have never paid attention to in the past.

As I was thinking about writing this blog, I realized that this week’s lecture was ironically interesting for me. Robotics is, for the most part, an integration of three fields: computer science, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. Although the former two play a very crucial role in advancement of robots, it’s the revolutionary advancements in electrical engineering that has significantly evolved robotics in the past two decades. Without integrated circuits and microchips, it wouldn’t be possible to build a robot the size of Asimo with such advanced features. Consequently, there is much excitement among electrical engineers regarding robotics as it’s the core of many research projects.

However, I, an electrical engineer, find myself questioning the motives behind humanoids. I don’t question the need for industrial robots used in factories to mass produce goods but wonder why scientists and engineers try so hard to create an existence that posses human traits and simulates human behavior. I was once told that a product can be mass marketed if it either addresses a definite need or provides noticeable luxury. In the case of former, the product is usually priced so that most people can afford it; as a result, the producer profits by selling large quantities of the product. In the case of latter, the supplied quantity is low but the producer profits by making a considerable amount off each unit.

Human robots are products and are made by companies with the goal of making profit. The question that arises here is that in 15 to 20 years which one of the above markets will humanoids belong to? Are they going to be as essential to our lives as cars are today? Will there ever be a time that not having a human robot is equivalent to not having a computer in today’s world? If so, why will we need them so badly? Do we need them to cook for us or do the housekeeping? If so what happens to fine dining and restaurants? Will we choose a restaurant because its robots are better programmed and thus are more skilled in feeding us—their creators?

On the hand, if the robots belong to the luxury group, how would those selected few use them? How would people without a humanoid react to those with them? Will having a humanoid mean a higher social status? Will the power hierarchy be affected by their existence?

With all these questions, I wonder if our motive for creating humanoids is the mere satisfaction fulfilled by creating such existence; if it’s all just about us achieving what we have dreamed of and written about for thousands of years? Will we ever come to believe that they are as useful as the food machine in “Modern Times”? And most importantly, will we ever dream we had not dreamed of creating them?

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