Rapid advances in computer technology and robotics have resulted in the increasing use of robots in science, medicine and industry. The impact these robots have had on humanity have been both positive and negative. Given the rapid pace of technology, robots will likely have an even greater impact on humans in the future.
The term "robot" was first coined by Czech playwright Karel Capek in 1921, although the concept of a man-made automaton had been explored by writers and inventors much earlier than that. The practical use of robots in manufacturing has been ongoing since the latter part of the 20th century, with robots used on assembly lines, manufacturing products such as automobiles, food and drugs. Robots have also served scientific purposes, such as the robotic arm, used by Endeavor, a NASA space shuttle.
The use of robots in manufacturing has both positive and negative effects. Robots can be used to perform dangerous tasks that would put a person at risk if he were to undertake them, which is clearly beneficial. On the other hand, robots are increasingly being used in place of human workers. Although this can yield higher profits for the manufacturer, the increased unemployment this creates is likely to have a negative effect on the economy as a whole.
According to Marshall Brain, author of "Robot Nation" essays, the use of robots will increase substantially in the coming years. Robots, writes Brain, will be used to perform jobs currently being done by humans, such as airline pilots, baggage handlers and retail checkout clerks. As an example, he notes that Wal-Mart is developing an automated inventory system using robots to stock shelves in stores and warehouses, which are jobs currently performed by humans. Brain foresees a "robot nation" in which systems will no longer require any human supervision or intervention, with robots repairing and manufacturing other robots. Brain anticipates the impact on the U.S. economy could be devastating.
A scenario in which robots create robots has long intrigued science fiction writers, in which high-tech robots are typically depicted as malevolent entities intent on destroying or enslaving humanity. This is the essential premise of both the "Matrix" and "Terminator" film series. However, science fiction portrayals of robots have also been benign, such as the robotic character of Data in the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and Steven Spielberg's film "AI: Artificial Intelligence." Other examples of robots in science fiction include the film "Blade Runner," Isaac Asimov's novel "I, Robot" and and Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis," which is the first time a robot was depicted in a movie.
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