Sunday, February 23, 2014

Microbots: Automation Revolution Continues with Miniaturized Electronics

Ratcheting down technology’s price-performance improvement curve, we have seen the evolution of computers from the size of a room to a PC to a smartphone to a credit-card-sized micro-controller to a smartwatch to now finally the point where they are almost invisible (Figure 1).

It is not likely to be the big robots of automotive factories that ‘take over the world’ or at least continue to take over labor, but rather microbots.

A recent trend in scientific advance has been microbots such as termite robots that build houses, nanomotors being controlled for the first time in living cells, Google’s electronic contact lenses, blood tests 2.0 (finally! more immediate and orders of magnitude cheaper, though still via physician hegemony), and personalized drone delivery services.

This all points to the ongoing miniaturization of computing, including new use cases and interesting philosophical and ethical problems that could arise when technology is invisible. We are generally aware of technology in our environment now, think of the UK’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras, or the trackability of web-surfing history, but a new conceptual adjustment may be required when technology is more pervasively integrated and invisible.

Figure 1:  Miniaturization Trend, Next Node: Microbots (Source)

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