The Weekly Round-Up: Invasion of the mediocre robots, and the mystery of the ghost-free datacentre

And why technology is making us all even more anti-social...
Written by The Round-Up, Contributor

And why technology is making us all even more anti-social...

The Round-Up spends more time than is strictly necessary - or healthy - thinking about the day when computers finally have enough of processing dull spreadsheets and hosting funny cat videos and decide to rise up and destroy us instead.

On the off-chance that such a future is just around the corner, the Round-Up has always been careful to treat his gadgets with a little bit of extra care, just in case one day that cranky laptop ends up being his robotic overlord. Who knows - that thoughtful little memory upgrade or disk defrag could have the Round-Up sitting pretty when the killer robot onslaught starts, so the theory goes.


Think you can do a better job than a mediocre robot?Photo: Shutterstock

And yet, it seems the Round-Up's rather pathetic attempts to ingratiate himself with our future mechanical masters has been a colossal waste of time. The biggest threat the human race faces is not being destroyed by marauding cybernetic monsters, but sleepwalking into a world where we lose our jobs to mediocre mechanicals instead, according to a panel of robotics gurus.

"These mediocre robots that we're going to have next year and the year after - they're not terribly good. They're much, much sub-human as compared to you and me and our friends, but they're going to be out there, they're going to interact with us and they're going to take our jobs," warned Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, in a recent panel debate organised by the Imperial College Robotics Society.

All of this is great news. After years of fearing a robot invasion, we're going to be replaced by slightly incompetent robots with all the charisma of Keith from accounts. The Round-Up is already feeling nostalgic about The Terminator. At least you knew where you stood with him.

The ghost in the machine?

It's only a few days until that terrifying time of year when adults lock all the doors and local kids roam the streets in search of sweets and cash - otherwise known as Halloween.

Considering the IT industry is awash with wizards and mailer daemons it's a great surprise that despite a huge amount of effort - OK, a couple of tweets - so far we have been unable to find anyone willing to admit to having a haunted datacentre, or even slightly ominous server room.

This of course is a great shame as the Round-Up had visions of going all Most Haunted, and spending the night in a paranormally active datacentre. Perhaps it could have been one haunted by the...

...spectre of a helpdesk worker driven mad by the stupidity of users, a ghoul who roams among the racks wailing piteously, "Have you turned it off and on again?" followed by a peal of manic laughter, rattling chains made of memory sticks.

Skeleton laptop

Haunted: The spectre of a helpdesk worker driven mad by the stupidity of usersPhoto: Shutterstock

Alas, so far it seems the only thing that goes bump in the night in a server room is a database administrator working late, dozing off and dropping a cup of tea.

Why it's not good to talk

It's good to talk, as the old marketing phrase would have it. But by the looks of it, it's even better to text.

For, rather than usher in a world where we chat to each other all the time, mobile phones seem to be making it much easier for us to avoid each other and be generally miserable.

More than half of Brits rarely or never find the time to have long telephone conversations with friends or family, with the same proportion saying they had longer phone conversations before mobile phones were invented, according to a survey out this week.

That's probably because - in the Round-Up's experience - while you might pick up your phone to make that annual call to Great Aunt Aggy (who will ask uncomfortable questions about your love life, salary and general prospects in life) somehow there's always a little app on your phone that manages to distract you. Life is funny like that.

Only five per cent of the people surveyed by uSwitch.com said they regularly make calls of 30 minutes or more. One in four said texting or emailing is easier, one in five said making calls is too expensive, and a depressing one in 10 admit to having nothing to say.

And it's not just on the ground that we're an anti-social lot. Only one in five travellers think in-flight connectivity is a good idea, and one in three said they would "actively avoid" travelling with an airline that offered such services.

The main objections to having onboard access to telephone and internet services in the air is the annoyance that comes from people talking loudly on phones mid-flight, and a desire to be uninterrupted by emails and social networking sites while travelling.

And it seems that even those travellers who do want to be surfing while they fly don't want to pay very much for it, according to the survey from Fly.com: 85 per cent of Brits would not pay more than £5 per flight for internet access and less than one per cent would be willing to add more than £10 to the cost of their flight for the service.

Technology making us miserable and mean? Maybe it's not time to welcome our robot overlords just yet.

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