Robot Servants – Or Why The Future Will Be More Like Downton Abbey Than You Think

I thought this morning as I woke up that it would be interesting to have a robot go out and do some shopping for me.

The ‘ultimate goal’ as an aspiring roboticist is to have robots replace humans for doing things humans don’t want to do. For some more nobler purposes, this will be hazard work (imagine robots that could help at Fukushima) but for the less nobler purposes, the upper-middle and upper classes will start out with robots that do work around the house.

I imagine there will be bipedal robots that can act just like the butlers/valets/maids/footmen on “Downton Abbey”.


Having robots as the servants side-steps many of the moral questions about having people as servants – if you’ve purchased hardware, if the robots are non-sentient, and you don’t abuse them, then you should be able to have one or more of them to take care of the ‘menial’ tasks in your life. Obviously the technology may be a bit of a ways off, but I’d posit (as with Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns) that it’s closer than many people think.

This leads to some interesting questions:

  • How do we handle payments by robots on behalf of their owners?
    • My supposition: something like NFC built directly into the robot that simply scans it and the RFIDs of the grocery products as it leaves the store.
  • Will people accept robots walking on the pavement/sidewalk?
  • What (if anything) will be the penalties for someone not a robot’s owner stopping a robot’s progress?
  • What will prevent people from physically stealing a robot that’s not with its owner?
  • What will prevent people from hacking a robot that’s not with is owner?
    • Will the previous two points require the robot OS be encrypted?
    • Even if so, what’s to prevent flashing the firmware of a stolen robot?
  • What jobs will we allow robots to do?
    • Construction seems an obvious choice outside of hazard work mentioned earlier.
  • What jobs won’t we allow robots to do?
    • Law enforcement seems an obvious choice, in contrast to the what we saw in “Elysium”.

We can imagine the protocol for a robot in the home – it does what it’s assigned and returns to some kind of base/charging station when not “in use”, similar to the movie “Bicentennial Man”. Outside the home things would be more complicated – movies like “I, Robot” give us an idea of what it will be like when robots are running down the street. (Of course, they’re based largely on Asimov’s ideas, and I only reference them for their visual aspects.) It will be interesting to see what the future holds, but it’s likely going to be one where people don’t have to do nearly as much work.