I just watched a robot play ping pong.
I’m at Hannover Messe, which is a giant industrial trade show that’s chocked full of every type of automation imaginable. Automation is technology that gets work done without people intervening. Robots are a subset, but so are “smart” things like engines, pallets, even entire vehicles, not to mention the computer programming that enables it all.
Robots tend to be the poster children of automation because their movement suggests agency that only we humans are capable of expressing.
The ping pong robot delivered it.
Not only did it analyze in real-time the direction and speed of the ball before whacking it in return, but it read its opponent’s facial expression and let up on its computer-assisted perfection if the other player seemed unhappy.
There were other robots on display at the show, many of them mocked up to look like the faux robot on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series (with chirpy female voiceovers). Others looked like glorified arms that pivoted in strange directions to precisely tap, hold, and move various widgets.
But this one did something more. Something different.
It got me thinking about what will be left for us humans to do?
You can read the entire essay at Innovation Communicator