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Partners of humans: a realistic assessment of the role of robots in the foreseeable future


As robots are generally thought to perform human-like tasks, they depend on the successes of information technology in the area of artificial intelligence to succeed in such pursuits. But robots, through their anthropomorphic character and their weighty presence in science fiction, attract the attention of the press and the media in a way that, at times, blurs the distinction between the actual state of the art and exaggerated claims. This makes it hard to assess the true functional positioning of robots, how this is likely to move forward and whether the outcome of progress could be detrimental to human society. The aim of this paper is to review the actual level of competence that is being achieved in robotics research laboratories and a plausible impact that this is likely to have on human control over life and jobs. The key thesis here is that cognition in machines and even an artificial form of consciousness lead to operations in a set of tasks (the ‘algorithmic’ category) which is different from that available to truly cognitive and conscious human beings (the ‘life-need’ category): that is, in the paper it is argued that a major category error (Ryle in The concept of mind, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1949) looms in predictions of serious threats to humanity. As far as a threat to jobs goes, it is argued that early attention to education and re-skilling of humans in the workplace can lead to an effective symbiosis between people and robots.

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Correspondence to Igor Aleksander.

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Aleksander, I. Partners of humans: a realistic assessment of the role of robots in the foreseeable future. J Inf Technol 32, 1–9 (2017).

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  • robot intelligence
  • robot work sharing
  • machine consciousness
  • cognitive robotics
  • robotics research