Last time out, we looked again at whether artificial intelligence would kill our jobs, and it seems that may depend on what we understand our jobs to be.

There are those, of course, who think that robots will become fully functional human beings, entities one could marry or trust to care for loved ones.

I don’t see that happening, but it would be only fair to introduce ourselves to Bob the Robot, who gave a TED talk recently ( TED = technology, entertainment, and design). As neurosurgeon Michael Egnor explains, Bob is really pretty cute but a clarification is in order:

Robots don’t deliver addresses, except in an instrumental way — as a tool used by programmers.

Robots can’t think, nor can they create speeches. A robot can be said to give a speech only in the way that a pencil can be said to write a play.

People give speeches, using robots (or public address systems, or televisions, or radios, etc.). The process of programming a robot to deliver a human speech (human speech is the only kind of speech there really is) can lead to permutations and unexpected outcomes, but the only intelligent agent involved is the human being. The robot is a tool, nothing more.

However, a robot can stand in for a human, perhaps in a difficult or dangerous situation.

Consider, for example, space exploration. If we wanted to explore the newly discovered mountains on Pluto,  3.67 billion miles from the sun, we would need robotic equipment like the Mars Rovers.

But it might be even better to have a robot that acts as a virtual body for a researcher sitting at a desk in Houston or Beijing.

Dashing the dreams of science fiction, if we want to explore planets outside our solar system, we will likely need such equipment.

More generally, though, if anyone supposes that the robot is doing the research, well, they may as well say that, in an everyday lab, the researcher’s sterile gloves are doing the research.

Research belongs to the world of ideas, and robots belong to the world of things we create in order to develop our ideas.

Incidentally, I don’t think Bob, below, has the right voice for the job. I wouldn’t doubt a better one can be bought at a robotic voice supply house.

See also: Will robots really take over? That depends. (It depends on what people can do that machines can’t do.)

Will the job bot eat your job? It will damage some job markets


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...