The robots are coming, but at least the kids will be preparedby Hephzibah Anderson / August 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Ensconced in my daughter’s menagerie of stuffed animals and dolls is a small wooden robot. His blocky limbs are elasticated, giving him taunting flexibility. He can do the splits and even swivel his head an owlish 360 degrees. He’s made in China, naturally, and I’m fairly certain that his blue and yellow livery is entirely toxic. But that’s not why he keeps me awake at night.
He is a robot, the friendly face of a future that is hurtling towards us with ever greater velocity, and is simultaneously almost impossible to imagine if, like me, you grew up in a world of Speak & Spells, Walkmans and Teletext. He represents the automation that is already devouring sectors from banking to law and hints at that unfathomable menace technologists call the singularity.
He also represents the fear that every parent has about what the future may hold for their child—and what, if anything, they can do to prepare them for it.
Becoming a parent does weird things to time. A night can last forever, a month pass by in the shake of a rattle. You imagine that once the shock of having to tend to a newborn’s urgent, ceaseless needs has passed, the hands of the clock might revert to their former reliable pace. They don’t.
There’s a successful US parenting podcast whose four-word title expresses plenty: The Longest Shortest Time. But it’s your relationship with what’s to come that changes most profoundly.
Are the robots taking over?
Nothing dates faster than the future. Even that blameless robot belongs to a future that’s already part of the past. Today’s robots are mostly faceless, formless.
Any inklings I’ve absorbed from pop culture’s crystal ball about how tomorrow’s world might look now seem as antiquated as, well, the old BBC television programme.
At the same time, the future is vitally important to me in a way that it never quite was before I had a child. This must always have been the case, what’s different is the speed at which the future is evolving.
A while ago, I interviewed a ragtag bunch who called themselves “futurologists.” Whatever their background, they all agreed on one point: it used to be possible to gaze 10, 15 years into the future with some degree of certainty.…