Robots Invading Retail (and everything else)

Walmart is beginning a 50 store trial of robots from Bossa Nova Robotics. Next month these robots will be employed to check stock levels and identify misplaced items on the shelves.

This information will then be used by human employees to go fix the issues found by the robots. The intent is to use the robots to perform time-consuming mundane tasks so that humans can perform the higher-value tasks.

This sort of human-robotic (or artificial intelligence/AI) interaction is likely to increase in all areas of life. Already, AI has permeated our smart phones and even homes as we use it to answer questions, perform searches, and control smart devices. As robotic technology increases, we can expect that this AI will become increasingly mobile and self-sufficient, no longer relying on us to place it in a spot in our homes or run an app on our phones, but rather able to roam our homes and workplaces, performing tasks either we’d prefer not to or – more likely – businesses would prefer not to pay humans to perform.

AI and robots are therefore likely to impact many areas of our lives. Robots have been used in manufacturing for many years (and helped to increase the competitiveness of the U.S. in this area). AI is making inroads in the financial industry to analyze data as well as in the news industry to write articles. Autonomous drones have been used in warfare and for delivery of goods.

The future increasingly looks like it will be filled with AI in various forms: apps, cloud-based services, robots, and drones. The intent is to have these augment human capabilities and serve at the behest of humans. Some, like Elon Musk, are already raising alarms. Others are embracing this future, while some are struggling with what all this means. Whatever happens, we will most likely “live in interesting times.”

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