About That Droid Invasion ...

Dec 9, 2015

As of today, we are just 9 days away from Star Wars.

And what is it that has us all excited? Clearly it’s the exhilarating space battles, the exotic far-away worlds, the simple yet compelling melodrama, and the droids. We love the droids — R2D2, C3PO and now BB-8. Star Wars gives us access to another universe where humans and robots live and work side-by-side.

But Star Wars is not just science fiction. It is, at least when it comes to robots, science fact and part of our social reality. My colleague Joanna Bryson has a clever way of illustrating this: She holds up her smart phone and says — channeling the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi — “These are the droids you’re looking for.” And she’s right.

Whether we actually recognize it as such or not, our world is in fact already overrun by droids — friendly digital assistants, capable recommendation algorithms, and socialable robots of various kinds and configurations.

For this reason, the impending robot invasion, if that is what we want to call it, will not take place as we might have expected. It will not occur in the form illustrated by decades of science fiction, with a marauding army of robots coming from another time and place. It will instead be more like the Fall of Rome, as everyday objects slowly but surely become increasingly more intelligent, capable and socially aware.

When you ask yourself, where are those affable droids of Star Wars? Look at your digital devices. These are the droids you’re looking for.

I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective.