I want to be very clear when I say that I am a big robot nerd. I love them. I would absolutely let robots run my life and that’s not entirely because I feel like it would allow me to be far lazier than I am now. I just straight up love the idea of robots, artificial intelligence and automation.
Naturally, when I had the chance to chat to Queensland University of Technology’s Professor Michael Milford, I was super stoked to talk about all things robotic. Milford specialises in robotics and automation, working on a number of research projects and teaching.
So it was interesting to get the take of an actual expert on all my favourite cool tech from television shows like Black Mirror through to expansive and liberal use of robotics in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ultron was not a friendly robot
But given how much we love watching robot flicks and playing robot games, I wondered how far ahead our imaginations were from reality. Because for me, I absolutely believed we were closer than we are.
Milford reckons differently though, saying:
“Australia, in terms of research and technology around robotics, is reasonably competitive with the rest of the world. In terms of expectations versus reality, obviously things like Iron Man and Terminator movies aren’t really feasible yet, which is a good situation in the case of the Terminator movie.”
So it’s still a way off before we have to worry about a buff Arnold Schwarzenegger robot terrorising the world, which is nice, though there’s no word over how many of the awful reboots we’ll have to deal with until then.
In the meantime though, there are still advancements made in robotics all the time. Milford commented that, “there is word that steady progress is being made, and most people will have seen videos of those robots like the Boston Dynamics robots.”
I both love and hate its little dancing foot knobs
If you haven’t come across this little robot dog yet, then hoo boy you are in for a shock. These machines are smart enough to go up and down stairs, open doors, jump, dance and more. The exacting movements they make are so realistic and lifelike that even though you can SEE a robot, you FEEL like it’s real.
Oh and if that’s not terrifying enough, they’re kept in pens. So you know, if the world collapsed and somehow robots rose up, they’d probably be fronting the charge. But in any case, they’re cool as heck, even though they’re super off-putting to look at upon first glance.
Milford agreed, explaining, “The first time I saw that video I was creeped out, that was my natural response. But then I watched it in more detail and was very impressed. And I got to interact with that robot, one of the more advanced ones.”
HE GOT TO HANG OUT WITH THE CREEPY ROBOT DOG.
Yes, I am wildly jealous. Yes, I want to hang out with the robot dog myself. No, I will not calm down.
I’m not bitter at all
“Initially it is quite confronting because you’re not used to seeing anything like that,” he says (and hoo boy, I can imagine). “But after a while, you get used to it. Some people got to control it from the audience, and it became more like trying out a new iPhone. It’s an iPhone that can run around a lot more.”
Now, I love dogs. I love them more than most humans, in fact. But robot dogs are next level and I do believe it’ll take us all a while before we really get as used to seeing robotic machines in our lives as we are with our iPhones.
But it’s something to consider, given that technological advances at companies like Amazon mean that a lot of the back-of-house work is done thanks to automation. It’s certainly come a long, long way.
In the most surprising news though, it turns out that in some areas, they’ve got a bloody long way to go.
they are still babies, really
“One of the areas where robots struggle is with easy things that we do naturally,” says Milford.
“There’s no robot that can come remotely close to reaching into its pocket and feeling around for a 20c coin. People were surprised by how far advanced some areas of the technology are and how primitive other areas are.”
And it’s genuinely boggling for the brain because there are robots that help with surgery, robots who pack crates — even a hotel in Japan where T-Rex robots run the check-in booth. But there’s still no way that they can effectively rumble around in a pocket for some coinage.
Unless, of course, you make it learn. If you’re interested in learning more about robotics, artificial intelligence, engineering and mechatronics, check out Milford’s stomping ground: QUT.
There’s a stack of really interesting courses that’ll have you wanting to pet the Boston Dynamics dog just as much as I do.Image: Terminator