I first head the world ‘Biobot’ in the context of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. After the explosion it was necessary to remove chunks of graphite from the roof of the reactor, and this was very dangerous work. Radiation was extremely high. To deal with this the Russians took soldiers, whom they designated ‘Biobots’, which would each go on the roof once, with lead protection, for a few minutes only, take one chunk and get out of there. This worked, the cancer statistics of this group do not show it doomed them.
Its a good question why that name was invented. Robota is just the russian word for working, so robots (for workers) would have been fine, it seemed there needed to be a kind of distance from being a person, from individual will implied by the word. The men did the job without concern for themselves, altruistically for the nation. Not strange for soldiers.
How is this relevant today? We are in an AI revolution. Unlike any time in the past we now have devices that can talk to us, see and listen with us, can know and absorb information super quickly, and above all, can instruct us and direct us. This is not just about being entertained or having a car that drives you, it is about having the most ergonomic cognitive intereface to humans ever, and it is still improving.
While Apple tries to put us all in pods with the Apple Vision Pro, where we imagine we will soon be wearing them while floating in slime, cut off from the world, uncaring if it even exists anymore, others try to race towards having android robots, humaniods, that can walk and thus talk like us, human scale, to replace humans in shitty jobs and places, and be active in life like people are.
I fear this will run into resource and energy problems, unless Sam Altman gets his $7 Trillion, in which case its still not like he can push a button and have all the stuff he needs. It will take a decade to build up production of both energy and the materials, mine the metal etc. etc. This leaves us with largely overlooked alternative : People.
I am in a hotel in Cambodia and the son of the owner can’t even make sense of me explaining I owe him xyz for the room. You could say he could augment his intelligence with an app to translate what I say to him. Even then he might not understand. Now if you took a person that was just bright enough to pick things up, you could have this person run the hotel, teach him english when nobody is bothering him. If you had an AI assistant with that role. I come to the desk, I say “I want to pay” the assistent tells the person in Cambodian “This person want to pay ask for room and look up the date here”. This could go well every time. Now does the person use AI or does AI augment the person?
My idea of AI is that it just makes things happen, but we are short of actuators, robots, machines, devices to actually move stuff and do stuff in the world. At the same time we have (literally) armies of people that are just not educated enough to understand and thus do many things correctly. The logical conclusion is that this is a mineable resource, an empowering and enabling potential that can greatly accelerate the advantageous effect of AI on the world.
Taking this idea further one can imagine that people that work in some job right now, can be assessed for potential of doing work with AI, as a kind of Biobot or Biohumanoid, because they are capable of turning the instructions of the AI, possibly aided by images, into precise actions. Its like a person that can make a recipy from a cookbook. Not everybody can. Once you can do it, you can cook almost every dish.
The role of biohumanoids can be profound, because it does not mean you have to do one job only. You can be a teacher for some people, an assistent for another, fix a car if that is called for, repair a light switch the next moment. All this because a lot of our actual skills and experience is about being able to imagine the steps to take to get to a specific result. AI can provide us with that imagination, with the twist that it can explain anything we don’t get about it, decide when or where to do it and keep an eye on many other relevant factors.
I would like to know if an AI augmented worker in a factory could be more productive or more motivated. Of course we have all kinds of screens for workers to look at and indicators. But do they talk, do they know the worker, do they keep an eye on things to do? How much skill does a worker need to have, and doesn’t AI mean we can do a lot more simply by using more people?
Moebius is a comic artist, who sadly passed away, but he made a comic I read as a child of a soldier that was on a wasted battlefield, being tracked by some robot. He had a gun he could talk to, that motivated him. He got shot in the story, by the robot. Then the robot operated on him to revive him, and left so it could continue doing what it was designed to : Shoot soldiers. We will probably have many compagnions once AI becomes less energy hungry and more prolific.
I think the use of well instructed people, the more intelligent persuance of education, the modelling of cities and what the people in them need, will be necessary to use the full potential of AI, with the use of said people. Just like a kitchen in a restaurant is nothing without a good chef, even if there are many cooks in there, the world my see it will be much better with AI to work out and direct how ideas are implemented. Good ideas of course, which we all want to work on. Thus the potential of humans will be used and if it is done ‘roboeconomically’ this doesn’t even have to cost the environment or us a dime..