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    Friend or foe – the human robot interface

    Deborah Singerman

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    The government’s advertising campaigns this year are set to include innovation and infrastructure. Transport is a high profile cross-over segment. Driverless cars have caught the digital and robotic imagination. A US analyst, unnamed but catching the vibe, has warned that if this technology takes off “it might recharge urban sprawl, halt recent uptakes of public transport, contribute to a decline in social diversity and even boost global warming” if its popularity overtakes other forms of potentially more energy-efficient fuelling. This is in the January/February issue of the NRMA’s Open Road so is reaching the right audience.

    The future (and in many cases the present) is Intelligent mobility. A Growth, Innovation and Leadership Congress held at the end of last year by global growth consulting, events and training company, Frost & Sullivan, pointed to leaner, safer and cleaner technology and output, with predicted reductions in traffic congestion, carbon emissions and accidents. An integrated approach will include “inbuilt, brought-in or cloud-enabled health monitoring systems in cars as standard optional or advanced features with future cars likely to be designed and reconfigured based on drivers’ age and health conditions”, said Intelligent Mobility Research Director Vijayendra Rao. Ultra-personalised data will also feed into healthcare service delivery in person and at home, with ubiquitous advertisements targeting us, and only us.

    Yet we still have to be vigilant. As well as all the privacy and cyber security implications, we should not assume that everything we read and act on is foolproof. For example, a San Francisco federal court has accused FitBit's heart monitoring devices maker of significant misreadings of heart rates. Driverless cars have crashed because they drive by the law and, unlike human drivers, fail to adapt to prevailing traffic conditions. 

    The place of robots within the workforce is on everyone’s minds. The Guardian Weekly and Sydney Morning Herald, among others, have had articles on the impact of computer power on jobs, mirroring a NSW government briefing paper that discussed a growing gap in demand between skilled and unskilled workers, leading to more inequality. Artificial intelligence systems will take over simpler tasks leaving humans to deal with work requiring more insight, choice and awareness.

    Pressure to prepare for the knowledge-based economy starts early and the ability of schools and parents to provide BYODs (bring your own devices) will not be equally distributed. Nevertheless, more and more companies are moving towards high-level, algorithmic, data-driven working. Place Partners describes its Place Score as “the world’s first that measures and quantifies place experience, allowing a community to monitor specified attributes and rate their overall experience of a place”. Expected launch is early 2016.

    It is up to humans how we use this new technology, how many data-hungry surveys we complete, what we prioritise and want to know (and others to know) about ourselves. As a travel writer bemoaning the digital counting of steps asked, “isn’t just walking around soaking it all up enough? “. Perhaps Pantone has it right. Their two key colours for 2016 are the soft pastels “warmer embracing” rose quartz and the light blue tranquil blue, for stillness and mindfulness.


    Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma

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