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2023, the year of robots (humanoids)

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2023, the year of robots (humanoids)

On 12 December, the IT album “Tech person of the year” will be on newsstands with Repubblica, La Stampa and Il Secolo XIX, in which we talk about the people, companies, gadgets and ideas that have marked a year of technology

* The author is Scientific Director of the Italian Institute of Technology

Alongside the well-known problems of conflict between world powers, the worsening effects of climate change, a difficult moment for liberal democracies, the 2023 also sees a world with a further decreasing birth rate. For theItalia this number is equal to 1.25, i.e 1.25 children per couple. To maintain a constant population, a rate of 2.1 would be needed. This means that in 2040 our country will see a workforce reduced by 3.7 million units. The estimated impact is approximately 15% of GDP. We are witnessing a true “demographic winter”.

Fortunately, 2023 also saw two transformations with positive impact: one technique, the other thought. The first – certainly the most cited in the media – is that ofgenerative general intelligence. The second is instead related to relaunching the dream of the universal robot. The latter is not yet a technical transformation, but rather, a change in the way we see robots. Universal robots like those in RUR, Kapek’s famous theater piece that gave rise to the word ‘robot’. Humanoid robots, made to interact with humansto help him in dangerous jobs and that, according to demographic numbers, even in jobs that are simply too tiring for a population made up of almost 20% of people over 65 years of age.

We don’t have to wait until 2040 to see the problem. Just think that already today 70% of reports of illnesses in the professional field concern pathologies of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues.

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2023 may be remembered as the year we stopped asking whether humanoid robots will be part of our lives but rather when they will be ready and what they can do for us. Given the demographic megatrend, perhaps we even have an “expiration date.” We need all-purpose robots before 2040!

History The Italian Institute of Technology and the future Bang between AI, robotics and nanomaterials by Emanuele Capone 04 May 2023

Already in 1495, the brilliant mind of Leonardo da Vinci he imagined an automaton knight, reminding us that the idea of ​​machines emulating the human form is not new. Humanoid robots made this way must be equipped with two fundamental intelligences: a cognitive intelligence, capable of allowing the automaton to understand and plan its actions, and a motor intelligence, which allows the artificial being to move and interact with the surrounding environment.

The goals achieved in 2023 in the field of cognitive intelligence, thanks to the so-called foundational models and generative artificial intelligence give us hope – albeit still with some performance limits. The real challenge remains building motor intelligence, giving machines the ability to move and interact with humans. This is the ultimate challenge of artificial intelligence. Design algorithms that work in thousandths of a second, consuming very little energy and error-free; if a wrong answer from a chatbot is, all things considered, often just annoying, a miscalculation in a moving robot can have disastrous results. We have an enormous challenge ahead of us, to recreate in a few years what evolution has achieved over millions of years. Recreating efficient bodies, composed of new materials, with fast neural electronics, learning from scarce and often confusing data.

Visions Different but the same: differences and affinities between the androids of Metta and Ishiguro by Emanuele Capone 21 September 2023

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Fortunately, despite the incredible challenge, 2023 has seen an effervescence of start-ups committed to developing humanoid robots ‘general purpose’, a challenge also shared by industrial giants. The competition is global, but for now, many of the newcomers to the field of humanoid robotics are concentrated mainly between America and Asia. Alongside the well-known Tesla project (Optimus), which thanks to the galvanizing communicative energy of Elon Musk has had the merit of relaunching the challenge of humanoids, we find, for example, the start-up Figure financed (it seems) for over a billion dollars, up to the Chinese UBTech which, already on the educational robot market, has now presented very advanced objects for a potential domestic market. Obviously let’s not forget the most agile robot in the world – and perhaps the most dangerous due to weight and speed – Atlas by Boston Dynamics. However, the latter remains the opponent to overcome.

We need versatile, minimally invasive robots that adapt to ecosystems designed for humans, such as, for example, those of the various manufacturing realities of our country. Among our strategic collaborations we find that between INAIL and the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), which aims to develop humanoid robots such as ergoCub – an evolution of the well-known iCub child robot – capable of lightening the physical load of workers and, furthermore, preventing occupational diseases.

The hand of BionIT Labs wins the Imsa award by Marta Borghese 28 September 2023

In the twilight of 2023, Italy finds itself facing an epochal turning point. Humanoid robotics is no longer a horizon to be achieved, but a market segment on which part of the future of work and the economy is being played out. iCub and similar projects are a reference for this challenge.

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Faced with the risk of a “humanoid winter”, where failure to create useful robots could slow down progress for generations, we must be more daring. We must actively participate in the global narrative, contributing not only to technical innovation, but to shared progress. Supporting the research and development of humanoid robots is more than a technological investment; it is a commitment to the future of humanity, a step towards a tomorrow where technology and man coexist in harmony, for progress that belongs to everyone and for everyone. Robots that will one day be taxed as producers of wealth and whose taxes will allow the maintenance of a very high quality pension and healthcare system (another very important technological challenge).

ITW23 Ishiguro-Metta Dialogue: Politics? Let’s entrust it to artificial intelligence and robots by Bruno Ruffilli 30 September 2023

What it takes to realize this vision: At a minimum a champion in frontier researchsuch as the Institute I direct (IIT), and a large investmenta public-private partnership on a multi-year and multi-million dollar project that step by step will lead us to the dream of intelligent robots that help us both in the factory and at home.

Robots made reliable by a solid and “risk adverse” engineering approach like the one used in the field of civil aviation. Newton thought that man could never fly, history has shown that our ingenuity has overcome the obstacle with ease. The next engineering challenge is that of (a little) intelligent and not at all dangerous humanoid robotics.

Adaptronics “We invented fingertips for robots” by Giulia Cimpanelli 06 October 2023

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