Marshal Brain’s latest Robotic Nation Evidence entry (04/05/04) seems to be stretching things a bit, but first impressions can be misleading. He illustrates what I have long held to be a sure sign of a rapidly changing world: the tiny changes that individually seem insignificant but in number indicate a coming tidal wave of change. He shows how advertising is subtly reflecting changes in the way we humans perceive robotics and automation in our future. The ad he quotes uses “untouched by human hands” as a statement of the highest quality.
To continue today’s theme of obstacles to technology, I believe that there are two primary obstacles standing in the way of Brain’s Robotic Nation. The first is the current state of robotic visualization systems. Scientists and engineers have not yet come up with a visualization system as complex as our own eyes and the visual processing that goes on in our brain. However, they are advancing quickly toward such a system, with many systems currently in use doing quite well at specific visualization tasks. A system that combines all of today’s advances will be formidable.
The second obstacle is more profound. Power supplies are rapidly becoming the major bottleneck in all technologies, including robotics. Today’s most advanced mobile robots last about twenty minutes before needing to recharge their gigantic batteries. Until robots can operate for days between charges, or can depend on power systems analogous to human’s need to eat for fuel, their usefulness and range will be limited. I expect the visualization obstacle to be overcome by 2020 and the power requirement obstacle to be overcome sometime after that. Both could occur much sooner depending on an unforeseen technological breakthrough or scientific discovery.