Original article here.

New developments in robot technology and AI have brought us to the cusp of a new industrial revolution. Chris Bond visited Sheffield Robotics to find out more. Meet MiRo. He, or she if you prefer, is a pet robot, or cobot (collaborative robot) to be precise.

Professor Tony Prescott with MiRo, a pet robot developed in Sheffield. (Scott Merrylees).
Professor Tony Prescott with MiRo, a pet robot developed in Sheffield. (Scott Merrylees). It has dog-like features and lights up when you stroke it and though it might not be man’s new ‘best friend’ any time soon, it could well become a familiar sight in the coming years. “It’s a prototype of the companion robots that people might have in the future in their homes,” says Tony Prescott, Director of Sheffield Robotics, where MiRo was developed. It’s more than just a substitute pet, though. “Older people often move into a care home because they’re worried about falling and that no one will see them. But a robot like this could monitor your movements and remind you to take your pills,” says Prof Prescott. As well as enabling people to live independently for longer it could also help reduce the future social care bill and is just one example of how robots are revolutionising the way we live.

There was a time when robots and AI (Artificial Intelligence) were confined to sci-fi films and dystopian novels. But not any more. Reality is catching up. Ever since the Luddites began smashing up their automated looms 200 years ago mechanisation has been putting people out of work. But whereas in the past this change took place slowly over decades, and sometimes even centuries, it has now accelerated at a bewildering pace. Professor Stephen Hawking recently warned that the creation of powerful artificial intelligence will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”, while stories about robot armies and robots taking our jobs have been grabbing the headlines. In December, the Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, warned that 15 million jobs in the UK could be automated due to changes in technology, spawning doom-laden headlines in some of the tabloid press. But Professor Prescott who is based at Sheffield Robotics - an ambitious research institute involving the city’s two universities - believes we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution. “We’re on the cusp of seeing some great changes.

We are seeing robots coming out of the factories and enter everyday life more than ever before.” We’re already starting to see robot vacuum cleaners and robot lawn mowers, while driverless cars are just around the corner and it probably won’t not be long before we see robot porters operating in hospitals. At the same time advances in AI have underpinned developments in speech recognition that are behind the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Talk. “You can now ask questions and get a sensible reply and we’re getting to the point where you can have machines in your house you can converse with, it’s very exciting,” says Prof Prescott. But with increasing automation comes concern over jobs. “It’s definitely going to have an impact and it’s AI rather than robots that are putting white collar jobs under threat. It’s not just office jobs, it’s lawyers and even doctors. So rather than giving you a diagnosis themselves a doctor might put your symptoms into an AI and the AI will give you a diagnosis. “Similarly with a lawyer the whole job of finding case histories is something AIs can do far more effectively.

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Professor Tony Prescott with MiRo, a pet robot developed in Sheffield. (Scott Merrylees). It has dog-like features and lights up when you stroke it and though it might not be man’s new ‘best friend’ any time soon, it could well become a familiar sight in the coming years. “It’s a prototype of the companion robots that people might have in the future in their homes,” says Tony Prescott, Director of Sheffield Robotics, where MiRo was developed. It’s more than just a substitute pet, though. “Older people often move into a care home because they’re worried about falling and that no one will see them. But a robot like this could monitor your movements and remind you to take your pills,” says Prof Prescott. As well as enabling people to live independently for longer it could also help reduce the future social care bill and is just one example of how robots are revolutionising the way we live. There was a time when robots and AI (Artificial Intelligence) were confined to sci-fi films and dystopian novels. But not any more. Reality is catching up.