Predictions for the future of robotics

I’ve had robots on the brain lately (thanks, Amazon). It feels like we’re right on the cusp of these things becoming a not-insignificant part of our day-to-day lives, like making breakfast or abandoning the MBTA when it catches on fire. The technology’s there; it just needs to be refined and implemented.

So it’s time to play Scottstradamus, look ahead to what’s coming our way, and make dumb jokes about it–emphasis on the dumb. You see, other pundits might take a topic like this and use it to make grand pronouncements about how robotic technology will revolutionize our lives, make our work easier, end world hunger, or bring us all to a state of post-human bliss that joins us all together as a species. Scottstradamus, though, has seen technological advancements persistently used in weird, selfish, silly, and exploitative ways–and that sort of abuse of power is actually a big theme in my Deviant Magic novels, even though I’m using magic rather than technology to make my point that power is often not used in the way you might expect.

Let’s get to the prognosticating! My psychic juices are bubbling out of control.

People are going to make love to their robots – and it’s going to lead to drama. If there is one inalienable truth about humanity, it’s that if something exists, someone, somewhere, wants to pork it. I’m not judging the world’s robosexuals; if you can find a way to use your RoboChef 3000 to get off, more power to you! They’re not going to be the obnoxious part of this.

For every person who wants to pork a thing, there’s a louder, much more annoying person who believes that porking is somehow poking holes in the fabric of society and must be stopped before it causes the end of everything. You know who they are. The boomer-ass Facebook posts, unhinged cable news rants, and lobbyist-funded thinkpieces decrying the practice of getting down with your droid are going to be majestic. The attempts to make human-on-bot (or even bot-on-bot) action illegal are going to be frustrating. Companies adding sexual activities to the list of actions that void the warranty on their robots are going to get laughed at so hard. I can’t wait to love to hate it all.

People are going to worship their robots – and it’s going to turn into a pyramid scheme. Charging people regular subscription fees for access to spiritual fulfillment is as American as declaring “people just don’t want to work!” I mean, what is a tithe, really? The Holy Church of C-3PO is going to require a lot of electricity, and asking devotees to protect their deity from literally shutting down if they can’t pay the bills is a hell of a sales pitch.

Think about what a swarm of robots could do for missionary work, too – or perhaps for faking miracles among populations who may not be familiar with what this kind of tech can do. I’m reminded here of cargo cults, less advanced societies that came to see technology we take for granted as a potential source of gifts and boons.

People are going to use their robots to fuck with each other – and it’s going to be hilarious. “Oh, hi, Hank, how’s things? Yeah, it sure has been hot here in the neighborhood lately! Global warming, am I right. What? Oh, no, I didn’t realize my RoboMower3000 chopped up all your rose bushes! Must’ve been a glitch; you know you can’t trust technology. Say, you’ve been having some real rippers in your backyard lately! I can hear that music all the way over here, all night, every time…”

People are going to use robots to watch you – and it’s going to get very messed up. Technology like stoplight cameras and smart doorbells are annoying enough, but at least they’re limited in utility because they are fixed in place and lack the capacity to physically interact with the world around them. But what happens when those cameras are attached to something that can move? Probably lots of things that are going to hurt people in some really bad ways. Programming these devices so that they only respond to stimuli in a manner that is safe for the people around them is a challenge I wouldn’t want any part of.

People are going to spend so much money on one robotics company’s offerings that it becomes the next Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Microsoft – and the person in charge is going to be obnoxious. Sure, the existing tech superpowers will be very interested in using robotics to keep their slimy tentacles slithering deep into your wallets, but it feels like there’s room in this industry for a whole new capitalist titan to ascend to godhood on the back of a product that becomes synonymous with personal bots. I suspect that product will be rather utilitarian, like a little wheeled buddy that follows you around and carries your stuff while also operating as a sort of voice-operated assistant a la Alexa or Cortana. Think R2-D2, but business casual.

The cult of personality built around that CEO will be almost as obnoxious and problematic as the CEO him/herself. Because this is just how things go nowadays. I look forward to rolling my eyes at their every podcast appearance, hate-reading their tweets, and laughing like a jerk whenever anything in their personal life goes even a little bit sideways. I do not look forward to dealing with the fanboys that are going to build their entire personalities around worshiping this fucker.

But back to the robots and onward to my most confident prediction: they’re going to piss me off. They’re going to get in my way. They’re going to be too loud. They’re going to be too bossy. Groups of them are going to be beyond frustrating. I am going to swear at one, it’s going to respond politely, and then I’m going to swear at it again. There will be multiple ranting blog posts about how much I hate business casual R2-D2. Get ready.