Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does The Future Belong To Robots? (Institute For the Future)

The Institute For The Future does some interesting long-range analysis. In the past they have focused on a variety of issues including things such as health and food but recently they decided to take on robots.

The method in this most recent effort seems to be a more or less straight line extrapolation based on existing trends but, as with all deep-future work, one of the real benefits of the analysis is the mental model of the question.

The Institute sees robots participating in our lives at three levels (see the embedded graphic below for more details or download the PDF). The first, automation, appears to be where we are now, with robots automating processes that were formerly done by humans. The second level is augmentation, where robots add to our existing capabilities, such as driving the car for us. The final level is understanding, where robots begin to interact with us in ways that are indistinguishable from the ways we interact with other humans.

The Institute is also very good at visualizing their data and this chart is no exception. I think visualizing the results of analysis is a pretty important skill for all analysts, so I always take a look at their stuff for new ideas. The small embed below may be difficult to read or navigate so I strongly suggest downloading the PDF file so you can examine the style of report more easily and in more detail.

Another thing that might be interesting to readers who don't track this technology very closely is how many examples of each of these levels (and in how many areas) the analysts at the Institute were able to find. It seems that the robot future may be closer than we think. It is thought-provoking analysis on many levels.

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