I'm probably imagining it, but I seem to be running into more references and articles about robots. For example, the falling costs for robots (and doubtless the movie "WALL-E") have reawakened suspicions as well as hopes about humanity and robots.
As different as these two machines are, they share a common ancestor: the industrial robot. The first factory robots appeared in the 1960s. They could do only simple, monotonous and mundane things, like moving objects from one production line to another—they were drudges, like the slaves Karel Capek described in 1920 in the play that coined the term from the Czech word robota, or “forced labour”. By the 1990s factory robots had become adept at cutting, milling, welding, assembling and operating warehouses. The cost of industrial robots has also fallen sharply against the cost of people (see chart), which has helped to boost their numbers to more than 1m worldwide. Most of them are built in Europe and Japan, with about half at work in Asia.The Chicago Tribune offers this list of Ten Things You Might Not Know About Robots. My favorite:
Today, thanks to the relentless increase in the power of computing, the latest robots are being fitted with sophisticated systems that enable them to see, feel, move and work together. Robot engineers call this “mechatronics”: the union of mechanics, optics, electronics, computers and software. Some factory robots are now smart enough to be released from their safety cages to work among humans. And as they become cleverer and more dexterous, they are starting to move from factories to offices and homes. [More]
7. The "Uncanny Valley" is a theory by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori suggesting that as robots become more humanlike, people's empathy with them increases. But Mori sees a drop-off--a valley--when the robot is not perfectly human but is alarmingly close and seems creepy, like the living dead. Filmmakers and critics have cited the Uncanny Valley as the reason some animation fails: It is neither close enough to reality nor far enough away to be comfortable to the viewer. [More]Meanwhile, the growth of robotics in agriculture is the subject of much speculation. One good way to explore this possibility more could be the annual Purdue Top Farmer Crop Workshop (July 20-23).
11:15 How Feasible is Robotic Agriculture? Simon Blackmore, Project Manager of FutureFarm Europe and Director, UniBots Ltd Simon has a worldwide reputation in developing intelligent machines and processes for crop production, and now he is running EU’s farm of tomorrow. With guidance, advanced monitoring and precision control systems becoming commonplace on farm equipment, what next steps will automation tackle in improving production or efficiency? [Whole agenda - and yes, I'm on it, so this is BSP - blatant self-promotion)This is an excellent event (and relatively cheap), although I think the organizers overdo content density (the pace is brutal) and underestimate the value of producer interaction as a spawning ground for inspiration or propagation of knowledge. It hearkens back to an outdated (IMHO) view of farming as an almost purely technical exercise, and colleges as the origin of most innovation.
Nonetheless, it is well attended and the breadth of information unparalleled. It also tends to have more early career farmers than any other I attend. So if you want to test our your theories on how robots could impact your part of the economy, this might be a good place to start.