TOPIO (‘TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot’) is a bipedal humanoid robot that plays table tennis against a human. The fear that robots can take over our lives has become a reality.

TECHNOLOGY and innovation have always been touted as positive advances in shaping our future. That is until 1995 when American scholar Clayton M. Christensen and his collaborators defined the term disruptive innovation. The term refers to an innovation that creates new market and value network, but eventually disrupts our future market and economy.

It may have started out with good intentions when these innovations and technology were first created. Somehow along the lines of human intervention, these innovations and technology can be manipulated into upturning the economy in negativity.

We are living in a world filled with innovations and technology. It integrates most aspects of our lives more so than we realise. Last year, it was a breakthrough year for innovations and technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, ChatBots and self-driving cars. There seems to be no limit to how innovations and technology can change our lives in the future.

We once feared that robots can take over our lives. Well, that fear has become a reality. Robots are no longer coming. They are here and they are replacing some of our jobs. So, what started out with positive innovations and technology has disrupted the old ways of doing things.

And, this might just only be the beginning. With robots becoming our co-workers, it is imperative that there is a possibility that humans can be replaced with more advancements in robotics technology. Talk has it that sobots — social robots that can read emotions and talk — are also not too far away.

Last year also saw the rise of wearables, such as health and fitness trackers, as well as smartwatches.

Now, analysts are saying that these wearables can become implantables. Can you imagine carrying technology in your body?

AI has been another fear factor for many when it comes to machine learning. I shudder at the thought of it replacing people and their skill sets. News of technology — such as Legal bots, AI journalists and even diagnostic robot doctors — has surfaced recently and is said to replace white-collar expertise in the near future. So, now, even lawyers, journalists and doctors are not safe in their jobs.

Autonomous driving has been another technology that was created to assist people who cannot drive, but needed a mode of transportation.

Last year, it took off with great impact from Google and Tesla autonomous cars. Uber is talking about trying out self-driving taxis, leading us to ponder that taxi or Uber drivers may lose their jobs to such technology in the future.

Then, there’s the Augmented Reality (AR), which has taken the world by storm. Pokemon Go was a global phenomenon. Virtual Reality (VR) also had surfaced around the same time, with many jumping on the bandwagon of this technology as entertainment. What has not been receiving much attention is Mixed Reality (MR), a hybrid reality characterised by the interaction of synthetic, digital content and real-world content in real time. My point here is that AR, VR and MR could cause people to not distinguish between our real world and the virtual world.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is also taking over in disruptive measures, if we are not careful. The fact is that we rely on technology too much.

We find the fascination of doing things that comes with special technology, and so, we implant and embrace technology in our lives such as homes and garden gadgets.

For example, we have kitchen gadgets that “cooks” for us with just the click of buttons, leaving the question to our future generation that they may lose the skill in cooking. Or, maybe, I am just paranoid.

The way I see it, disruptive innovations and technology are derived from our greed. Innovations and technology can’t do any wrong unless we abuse or manipulate them. If we put rules and regulation when managing these innovations and technology, they wouldn’t be disruptive to our economy.

Truth be told, these innovations and technology will improve the lives of many, if it’s guarded with good intentions.

The disabled can travel with autonomous driving vehicles; people are set to remind themselves about their health and fitness activities; robots can take on more dangerous jobs or jobs that require precision for safety purposes; IoT can assist and lighten up our chores, allowing us to have time for more important things. There’s plenty more that show the good side of technology.

The future has a life of its own. No matter how we fear that technology may take over our lives, it will happen regardless.

We can only accept that innovations and technology will continue to evolve and shape our future. Whether they will be disruptive, that will depend on how we adapt to them, either use them to our advantage, or let technology and innovations control us.

Ahmad Kushairi is the editor of BOTs, the weekly tech section in ‘Life &Times’. Trained in maths, he has since traded his problem-solving skills with writing about how technology has helped to transform the world for the better. He can be reached via kushairi@mediaprima.com.my

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