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The Past, Present, and Future of Robotics: Interview with Rich Mahoney, Director of Robotics Engineering at SRI (Part 7)

Posted on Thursday, Nov 28th 2013

Sramana Mitra: Your points are well taken on the quality of life. There are a vast number of people who cannot afford services because they cannot afford [to hire the] people who provide those services. They may be able to afford to buy a robot to provide those services, depending on what price point robots show up in. The problem will be if the same people who can afford robots could otherwise afford people; they just replace people with robots. Then it is a direct 1-to-1 replacement, and if the robotics price point is not at a level where a much larger mass of people can afford those services, which were not affordable through hiring people, that is going to be an issue.

Rich Mahoney: We can play out multiple scenarios that show how robots can be integrated into society in a way that people are not put at a disadvantage. At some point there is a need within government and industry to think through the technology continuum, look at the price structure and labor structure, and ask if we can conceive of another approach that uses the technology.

In construction I could conceive of a robot technology that would allow you to build high-quality homes very quickly and in the thousands of dollars range – maybe $10,000. The robot would build it, and it could be a very comfortable and pleasing home. That is not very much money. Or, where we pay $100 a month for our cellphones now, you could imagine somebody paying $500 a month for their shelter, food, entertainment, education, etc. All of life could just have a service plan attached to it that is actually at a very reasonable cost and gives people a quality of life that is available to everyone. Then there is the opportunity to engage with the world through education and entertainment, sports, and personal fulfillment that is just not possible for everyone right now.

SM: In a utopian state, everyone gets to afford a certain class of basic services which are value-added depending on how much time you spend on them, and they are taken care of by an affordable mechanical device, so you have a lot of leisure time.

RM: I am not an economist, but I could conceive of a robotics technology that would enable that kind of structure. What would the world look like in 50 years, when 12 billion people can have access to a basic service plan that provides housing, clothing, and food at a price that is accessible to everyone? I can definitely see this continuum we are on heading towards that direction.

SM: That is an interesting vision. It has been a fascinating conversation, Rich.

RM: Thank you, Sramana.

This segment is part 7 in the series : The Past, Present, and Future of Robotics: Interview with Rich Mahoney, Director of Robotics Engineering at SRI
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