by Betty L. Martin
HOUSTON, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Robotics, the new horseless carriage or computer, is the latest innovation changing the way people worldwide live, an expert said Thursday.
Peter Singer, a consultant to the U.S. Pentagon and author of the best-selling book "Wired for War", made the remarks addressing about 250 members of the World Affairs Council of Houston.
Robots, a reality of the modern day battlefield, were in action around the world and not just in government, but in medicine, transportation, business and just about every field imaginable, Singer said.
Today, drones -- 8,000 U.S. drones in the air and 12,000 of them on the ground -- allow U.S. military commanders to engage in search and destroy missions thousands of miles from their targets.
"The number of drones doubles in capacity every 18 months," Singer said. "Over the next 25 years, our technical capability will be a billion times over what it is today. This is what it is like to live and work in a robots revolution."
Singer cited Microsoft magnate Bill Gates' estimate that, with robotics, society is now where it was with computers in 1980.
"Robotic cars are increasingly taking over jobs for us," Singer said. "We are fighting cyberwars to prevent identity theft. For the young engineers of today, robotics is where it's at."
The ripple effects of the new technologies were being seen across the world in innovations and more applications than was dreamed possible just a decade ago, Singer said.
"By 2015, the commercial use of robotics will be a 10 billion U.S. dollars to 90 billion U.S. dollars market," he said. "Robotics will gain about 21,000 new clients just from police departments using drone helicopters."
Police used to need a warrant to peek over a private individual's fence. "Now robotics-equipped police helicopters can peek into entire neighborhoods," he said.
Innovation intersects with profit seeking and leads to more innovation and greater profits.
While robotics spurs economic growth, it also has led to job losses as blue-collar workers are increasingly replaced by machines.
"Six million jobs have been lost due to robotics," Singer said. "That's one out of every 10 auto workers who have been replaced with robots."
Surgeons, traditionally in the highest rung of the medical field, were paid for their skills in holding a knife steady and making the cuts in the exact spot necessary, but robotics has made inroads into that job, too.
"We are already seeing robotic surgeons that can hold a knife perfectly still and make the exacting cuts to specification," Singer said. "But pediatricians don't need to worry -- robots have a problem telling a father when his two-year-old child has a fever."
There are now robotic lawnmowers, robot carpet cleaners and, in Australia, robots that can track down hikers who have been lost in the Outback.
On the downside, the laws of accountability have not kept pace with the technological advances, Singer said.
"When your robot has an oops moment, who do you hold responsible? When a drone strike doesn't work, who is accountable?" Singer asked. "Drones are being used in reporting, a fact that will strike fear in the heart of every VIP (very important person) outside in their yard with friends on their birthday."
Then there are the terrorist applications, Singer said. While one individual used drones to recreate Charles Lindberg's historic flight, another person got a drone but failed in his intent to fill it with explosives and recreate the attack of 9-11 in New York.
"Fortunately, he asked an undercover FBI agent where he could get the explosives," Singer said.
With the use of robots, the way of thinking about war has changed, Singer said. "People go to war overseas from their chair in Nevada. That's a fundamentally different experience of going to war."
Like gunpowder or the steam engine, the new technology is creating hard questions about its use and the ripple effects in politics, business, law and ethics, Singer said.
"We're getting science-fiction-like," he said. "This is the technical and political reality of today."